Georgian London was the epicenter of urban pleasure culture. Harlots leveraged their assets, rakes indulged in licentious sex, and brothels, molly-houses, taverns and bawdy houses were scattered all over the city. Behind all this reckless abandon lay a milieu of misery. Between 1756 and 1760, the Foundling Hospital of London admitted 15,000 infants. This amounts to 10% of all the births in London for those years. This week’s episode addresses the trope of seduction, the realities of prostitution, and the ways that rapidly rising illegitimacy ratios stimulated child abandonment in eighteenth-century London.


Transcript of Seduction, Prostitution, Bastardy, and Child Abandonment in Georgian London

Marissa: Mary Adams, one of the first women to be executed at Tyburn in 1702, became a cautionary tale for young female servants after her story was published in the Newgate Calendar in the 1770s. Adams purportedly served a household in Reading. While there, she was seduced and made pregnant by the Master’s son. Her Master reluctantly paid for her lying-in. She surrendered her illegitimate child to parish poor relief and went to London where she went into the service of a mercer in Cheapside. She was seduced by him as well, became pregnant again and left service for her lying-in, which was financed by the baby’s father. Later sources say that she extorted him for 20 guineas by threatening to tell his wife. In an attempt to change her destiny, she used the last of her extorted sum to buy respectable garments and attract a suitor. It worked for a short time. She was able to court and marry a respectable man. It was not long before her new husband discovered her past transgressions and absconded, joining the royal navy. At this point Mary’s life devolved into one of sex work and petty crime. In 1702, she stole a bank note and was quickly discovered. Adams was tried at the Old Bailey and executed at Tyburn on June 16, 1702.

Sarah: Though this story is based on real events, it was highly embellished over time and circulated widely in the 1770s and 1780s. Writers in the 1770s blamed her first Master’s son for her ultimate ruin, “the man who thinks of seducing a poor girl, should reflect that, besides the ruin of her, he involved her unhappy parents and friends in all the bitterness of woe. From this mellancholly tale then, let our men and maids be taught that stolen pleasure, though tempting to their irregular passions, are followed by a series of bad consequences.”

Marissa: Seduction is framed as a gateway to bastardy, prostitution, theft, grief, and poverty. The Mary Adams story lay somewhere between and 18th-century epistolary novels (think Samuel Richardson or Fanny Burney), the erotica of John Cleland (Fanny Hill), and the 19th-century gothic novel (think Frankenstein). In fact my favorite novel of all time, Slammerkin by Emma Donoghue, features a very similar story. These kinds of stories make for great fiction but lives like these were more common than one might think. Today we are discussing the historical realities behind the stereotypical narrative of seduction, bastard birth, prostitution, and child abandonment in Georgian London.

Marissa: I’m Marissa

Sarah: And I’m Sarah

Marissa: And we are your historians for this episode of Dig.

Sarah: We want to give a big THANK YOU to all of our patreon supporters, but especially our “Auger” and “Excavator” level patrons. Colin, Peggy, Christopher and Lauren — your patronage help keep this podcast going. Listener, if you are not yet a patron, you can go to to learn more.

Marissa: In Georgian London (1714-1830), authorities were struggling to manage the problem of illegitimate birth and child abandonment. Proposed for the purpose of tightening a patriarch’s legal control of his children, Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act of 1753 formalized marriage ceremonies. Prior to the Act, English couples could marry without the consent of their parents. This created all kinds of issues for inheritances and ultimate weakened a patriarch’s control over his own estate. After the Hardwicke Act, betrothed couples were required to publish banns or obtain a marriage license before the ceremony. Marriage banns are basically formal announcements of a couple’s intent to marry. The banns were required to be read out loud in a couple’s parish church for three weeks in a row before their marriage ceremony. Most historians believe that the Hardwicke Act not only prevented concealed marriages but that it also prevented shotgun marriages. 

Sarah: In other words, once legal marriage became more difficult to obtain, there were many more broken betrothals. This was a problem because traditionally, betrothal marks the point in a couple’s courting when sex was culturally condoned. It was normal for people to become betrothed and then begin having sex before the marriage ceremony was performed. If the woman became pregnant, the couple could marry as soon as they found out, thereby legitimizing the child. What is more is that courts enforced “promises of marriage” as legal betrothal and could compel people to marry or at least compel the man to support the child. The Hardwicke Act put impediments between betrothals (that is… sexy time) and legal marriage. People kept behaving the same way they always had, courting, promising marriage, having sex, getting pregnant, but fewer marriages were happening.

Marissa: At the same time, young people were fleeing the countryside and relocating to London and other large cities to find work. People got together and circumstances changed. Men were impressed into the navy, women contracted themselves out as indentured servants in the colonies, couples working in the same household started new jobs and lost touch, there was a lot of mobility and insecurity. This made it even more difficult for people to legitimize their premarital sexual relationships. Men became vulnerable to paternity suits, bastardy prosecutions, and fornication indictments. Women became vulnerable to bastardy and fornication charges as well as bastardy, that is illegitimate birth, or single motherhood. Rates of illegitimate birth soared. In 1680, 1.5% of all births were bastard births. By 1790, this percentage had risen to 5.1%. That means rates of illegitimate birth tripled. Interestingly, this increase in illegitimate birth coincided with a decrease in infanticide indictments and convictions. Historians have suggested that increased tolerance toward bastard-birth may have driven fewer women to infanticide.

A painting of Thomas Coram, 1740
Thomas Coram, 1740 | Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

One thing we know for sure is that rising illegitimacy rates resulted in a child abandonment crisis in London. The London Foundling Hospital was established by Thomas Coram, a wealthy philanthropist whose heart was broken by these issues. The Foundling Hospital was able to secure public funding for the period of 1756-1760 so they could hold a General Reception. They had an open admissions policy. In those four years, 15,000 infants were surrendered to the hospital. This amounted to 10% of all the births in London during those years. In 1760, the hospital was forced to institute a lottery system. Women were required to submit petitions for the admission of their children so they could assess their worthiness. Worthy petitioners were then placed on a ballot. At a monthly drawing, picking a white ball entitled the petitioner to surrender their child to the hospital. Drawing a black ball meant their child could not be admitted.

Sarah: These numbers may sound alarming to us now but many parents expected the surrender to be temporary. At the time of the infant’s admission, the steward cut a piece of the infant’s clothing off and then cut it in half. One half was pinned to the child’s admission paperwork (called a billet). The child’s mother kept the other half. She was also asked to remember her child’s admission date. If/when she returned to claim her child, the swatches would be matched and the woman’s child would be identified. Fifty percent of mothers who surrendered their children left an additional token, a locket, a poem, jewelry, a special coin… all kinds of objects. These tokens were sealed up in the billet and remained sealed until a claim was made. 

Marissa: Even when they came from happy, loving homes, poor and working-class children were often separated from their parents at young ages by necessity. Many spent their childhoods in the households of friends or family, in parish workhouses, as bonded apprentices to local tradesmen, or in the home of a “nurse” – an early iteration of foster care which could have included breastfeeding or not. These arrangements were made for poor children by their local parish which collected poor taxes and assisted families who could not support themselves. Plebeian girls could be sent out to service as early as the age of 8. While they were young, they labored in a trade or in a domestic setting but they also were taught to read and sometimes to write. Their periods of service varied but they were usually bound apprentices until their early teens.

Once apprentices or servants were teenagers, they often entered a new period of service, either continuing the trade they had grown up around (common for boys) or entering domestic service (common for boys). This was a very vulnerable time for young servants, especially female servants. They were of reproductive age, unmarried, and working in close quarters with men. The vast majority of women who bore illegitimate children in the eighteenth century, did so at this stage in their lives. Most of them were not born in London, having come from the surrounding countryside or the European continent. They did not have a supportive social network to surveil their every move and to aid them when they needed it.

Sarah: This time was also one of surprising autonomy and mobility. Women servants tended to serve for many years due to the late age at first marriage (an average of 27.3 years old) and their inability to support themselves any other way. Most servants were on annual contracts so they moved from one household to another throughout their teens and early twenties. In some ways this was a freeing experience. The prevalence of domestic service contributed to new courting rituals and sexual license that was less common in the seventeenth century. Elite women were less likely to experience this culture because they tended to live with their parents, marry slightly younger, and move directly from authority of their fathers to the authority of their husbands.

Marissa: Even though they had less freedom, elite women were more protected from the advances of men. Some servant women were “seduced” and impregnated by their masters or their master’s son. We should take a minute to define how we’re using the term seduction here. In the eighteenth century, the word meant something very different than it means today. Seduction refers to the incremental cajoling and convincing that a man performed on resistant women to, eventually, get them to engage in a sexual relationship with them- something like “winning them over.” But the problem is that the lines between courtship (consensual relationships), rape (sexual assault) and seduction are very blurred in this period. Seduction was understood as a sexual event that, in present times, could fall anywhere on the scale of sexual consent.

Sarah: Master-servant relationships made this even more complicated. If your livelihood depended on your acquiescence to sexual advances, then was it really consent? (For more on this question, you’ll want to listen to Sarah’s episode on rape in Early America that is part of this series.) Like Mary Adams, our cautionary tale, some of the women who abandoned their children to the Foundling Hospital were seduced by their master or master’s son. In 1811, for example, Frances Small concealed her pregnancy, fending off the suspicions of her mistress until giving birth to a baby girl. After the birth, Small revealed that the baby belonged to her master, Mr. Linley. Her mistress, Mrs. Linley, appeared to believe her and was not particularly angry with her. She served as a reference when Small petitioned for her child to be admitted into the Foundling Hospital. Mrs. Linley might have been able to contain her anger at Small because she knew that the sexual relationship she had with her master was a coercive one. 

Marissa: Masters typically discharged pregnant unmarried servants living in their household. They occasionally gave them some kind of severance, paying for their lying-in or petitioning for their admission to a charity hospital. Most often, pregnant servants were ejected from the home with nothing. This was relatively new. Since 1633, domestic service regulations had prevented masters from terminating the employment of their pregnant servants without just cause. If a householder wanted to sack his unmarried and pregnant servant, he had to secure approval from a court justice to make it a lawful discharge.

A political cartoon poking fun at the double standard of bastardy laws
“Immoral” women being tried under a bastardy law, nd | Wellcome Collection

Sarah: In 1777, Chief Justice Lord Mansfield ruled that bastardy (conceiving a child as a result of premarital sex or fornication) was criminal. Masters, therefore, had every right to dismiss their pregnant unmarried servants for their crimes. Mansfield found that forcing masters to keep their servants on “in a family where there are young persons [to be] both scandalous and dangerous.” For many women, the termination of their employment was the first event in a sequence of tragic events that destroyed their lives.

Marissa: There is no better example of this than a woman named Mary Davis. (First of all, let’s establish that almost every woman in eighteenth-century England were named Mary. This is not the same Mary that we started with at the top of the show. Different Mary, 70 years later). Mary Davis was a small child in the 1770s in Herefordshire, England, when her father died suddenly. Unexpected death often destroyed working class families but her mother was fortunate enough to marry a “very honest, industrious man of the name of Hopkins.”

Sarah: Hopkins was a mere laborer and, as hard as he tried, was unable to support his wife and new family. It was decided that Mary would travel to London and go into service as a maid in the home of Hugo Meynel, “a celebrated fox-hunter,” and his wife Ann in Charles-street, Berkeley-Square. Young Mary, no more than 12 or 13 years old, caught the eye of the Meynels’ footman. He seduced and impregnated her. Years later, Mary wrote that he “took advantage of her innocence and inexperience.” When the Meynels discovered her pregnancy, they terminated her employment to avoid scandal. Not only had Mary gotten pregnant outside of marriage, but the father of her child was a married man and they had carried on their liaison under the noses of their master and mistress.

Marissa: Out of a sense of guilt, the footman financed her lying-in. In the eighteenth century women were typically confined to bed rest for weeks before and after their infant’s birth. After giving birth to a baby girl, Davis sent her own child to nurse in the countryside at an inexpensive rate and found a place as a wet nurse with a wealthy family. She probably paid more than half her wages for the nursing of her child. After six months, the infant she had been hired to nurse was ready to be weaned and Davis was let go. Having nowhere to live, Davis went to the village of Tottenham where her child had been living. She found lodging there and attempted to find another place as a wet nurse. She quickly lost her milk, however. With no income she, she could no longer pay for her child to be nursed so she retrieved her and they lived in poverty.

Sarah: Her landlady was initially helpful but over time grew resentful of Davis’s lack of income. One day she threatened to throw Davis and her baby out in the cold asking her how it was possible that Davis had no income since “girls with worse faces” than Davis “often pinched up a great deal.” Desperate, Davis turned to prostitution to “preserve her immediate existence by courting infamy.” Davis worked as a prostitute for several months. After a short time, she was able to surrender her daughter to the care of St. James parish and return to her mother’s house in the countryside. She soon realized that she was again pregnant, in her words, “the sad effect of the prostitution she had been so barbarously driven to!”

Ashamed, Davis left her mother’s house again and lived off the charity of others in London. During this time, she learned that her daughter had been placed with an infamous parish nurse who was known for beating her nurslings. Mary petitioned to have the child moved to a different nurse, without success. Her child died shortly after in the workhouse from whooping cough with a black eye and broken collarbone. Davis gave birth to her second child and quickly sought a place as a wet nurse. Determined to do better for her second child than she had for her first, Davis sought for it to be admitted into the Foundling Hospital.

Marissa: Mary Davis’s story shows how easy it was for women to be in a position where they must resort to prostitution. In the Covent Garden Journal, a literary magazine, the story of prostitute Mary Parkington, “a very beautiful girl of sixteen years of age,” was made public after a raid on a brothel owned by Philip Church. Parkington had been the daughter of hatter whose life was unremarkable until she was “seduced by a young Sea Officer, who left her within a day or two.” The officer left her destitute and defiled so she dared not go home because she was so ashamed. When she was begging on the streets, a woman gave her a £5 note, clean clothes and a place to sleep. As it turned out, the woman was a procuress and she expected Parkington to prostitute herself to pay back her debt but she never left.

Sarah: Mariners, like the one who seduced poor Mary Parkington, often feature in stories of seduction, illegitimacy, and spousal abandonment. Given the centrality of maritime life to the British empire, it is hardly surprising. There were about 75,000 sailors living in London at any given time in the second half of the eighteenth century. Britain struggled to recruit sailors from its massive population during this period. They never comprised more than 1% of the city’s population. This small group was still culturally, if not demographically, significant London’s parish poor relief records are filled with women abandoned or widowed by sailors, and disabled mariners unable to support themselves or their relatives.

A caricature of a press gang, 1780
A press gang, 1780

The city was home to merchant mariners as well as demobilized navy sailors who wrought havoc over the city in the second half of the century. Both skilled merchant mariners and unsuspecting vagrants were coerced or kidnapped on the streets, impressed into the navy and made to serve the King until their death, escape or demobilization. Naval impressment had a long history but it was accelerated after 1688 as Britain expanded its empire, and was not discontinued until 1815. Historian Denver Brunsman writes, “The Royal Navy was the centerpiece of Britain’s fiscal-military state. The service received more investment than any other government division, enough to make it the largest industrial organization in the western world in the eighteenth century.”

Marissa: “Grass widows” as the spouses of seafaring men came to be called feature heavily in sea ballads such as “Sweet Poll of Plymouth,” wherein a sailor’s wife dies while he is at sea. In a popular print published in the Oxford Magazine in October 1770 called The Press Gang, or, English Liberty Display’d, a man’s wife protests his kidnapping by a press gang. The Captain chastises her, “Let them starve & be damned, the King wants Men, haul him on Board you dogs.” This highly dramatized rendering does not accurately depict the activities of press gangs in Georgian England but its depiction of spousal separation suggests that this occurrence was one that was familiar to ordinary Londoners and lamented by them.

Sarah: The Captain’s words acknowledge the vulnerability of the partners of seafaring men. They appear in poor relief records regularly. Elizabeth Gardner was reduced to poverty in 1773 when, “she had the misfortune to loſs [sic] her husband who died last Summer on board the Ship Unity from Newcastle upon Tyre going up the Baltic to Petersburgh—leaving her a widow and then with Child.” In February 1774 she surrendered her infant boy to the London Foundling Hospital to find work. That same year Mary Morris became pregnant by a lover in their hometown some ways from the city. He shortly thereafter moved to London and encouraged her to follow. Once she arrived in the city, heavily pregnant, he abandoned her by going off to sea. She gave birth in poverty without friends or family to support her and without a legal settlement in any of London’s parishes. She too surrendered her child to the Foundling Hospital.

Marissa: Most unwed mothers went into domestic service or did some kind of manual labor. It was difficult for single mothers or deserted wives to make enough money to provide for their children. They felt that the parish foster system or Foundling Hospital was their children’s only chance for survival. Prostitution was always a risk and may have been more common than it is today. Tim Hitchcock, historian of poverty in eighteenth-century London, has so many great examples of this in his book Down and Out in Eighteenth-Century London. One is too good not to share. A woman named Mary Price (once again different Mary) was married to a tallow chandler in St. Martin-in-the-Fields. She did occasional begging in West London for extra cash. She told a neighbor that she occasionally prostituted herself to a prominent local man named Francis Gotobed (can’t make this stuff up). In the words of her neighbor: “she had had many a shilling and sixpence of him and had it not been for him she should have been half starved.”

Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies, a guide to the brothels in London, provides a similar point of view. Jack Harris was a pimp and entrepreneur who sold his brand to a Grub Street (18c version of tabloid) press. The guide, bearing his name, was published between 1757 and 1795. Its sex-positive pages are filled with confident and engaging women who treat whoring like it was their chosen profession. (Everyone go watch Harlots right now, it’s the best)

suggests that others understood prostitution to be the very worst consequences of a gradual slide into debauchery. he prostitutes that appear on the pages of Harris’s List were often seduced by some scoundrel who absconded after debauching her.

Sarah: In women’s accounts compiled at the London’s Magdalene houses (these were reform institutions for penitent prostitutes), we can see how horrifying it might have been for women to engage in sex commerce while they had custody of their children. One former prostitute described a scene when her child witnessed her break down after an altercation with a rough john, “I was weeping over my child, who, frighted at my agonies, was more clamorous in his grief, hung round my neck, and screamed, he knew not why, only he perceived the men were the cause of my affliction.”

Marissa: Many prostitutes who had children were victims of seduction (or rape or abandonment by a partner) who struggled to provide for them after the fact. Most women in this situation eventually resorted to begging. For one former prostitute, she recalls the day she realized that begging was not enough:

“One time, when I was reduced to the last extremity, myself almost starved, and my child in the same condition, and piercing my heart with his cries; as the last effort, I dressed myself neatly, and went out to try if I should have any better success, as a higher degree of begger…I returned home to my famished child as soon as possible…. I confess my recompence was great, in seeing the dear babe almost at the gates of death, revive as he eat, and the smiles of joy by degrees take place of the anguish which the pains of hunger had imprinted on his lovely face.”

You can see why so many women surrendered their children to poorhouses and charity hospitals. London was labor-rich and it was almost impossible to find work that allowed women to parent their own children at the same time. Their parting scenes were, understandably, heartbreaking.

Sarah: One former prostitute asserted that providing for her child kept her in the sex trade even though it ground her down mentally and physically. She said, “As soon as my shattered brain grew a little composed, anxiety for my child made me desirous to preserve a life which seemed to promise me nothing but misery: But what I would not have undergone, rather than leave that dear babe friendless and defenceless in a world which now was very low in my estimation!”

Another woman surrendered her child so she could continue working in a brothel. She felt selfish for grieving the loss of her child to the system., recollecting, “I delivered my child where I was ordered; which I confess cost me many tears; for the tenderness of a mother got the better of true maternal love, which should have made me rejoice in this separation.” She felt if she possessed “true” maternal love, she would privilege the needs of her child over her own affection for him.

a black and white illustration of Fantine from Les Miserables
An illustration from Les Miserables, depicting Fantine, who was forced to put her child out with a foster family | Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Marissa: Many women surrendering their children to the Foundling Hospital only did so after attempting to pay for child care with their low wages. Mary Briglen (I know… the fifth or sixth Mary at this point?) in 1800 sent her child to an inexpensive wet nurse whom she paid 5 shillings per week. The only job she could find, as servant to Mr. March, an upholsterer, paid only slightly more than the cost to nurse the child. Sometimes women paid a wet nurse or dry nurse MORE than their wages. These solutions obviously did not last long.

Sarah: Some mothers were able to arrange to keep their children with them but only with financial assistance from their parishes or the Foundling Hospital. In 1774 Sarah Flinder, the mother of an illegitimate child, secured a spot on the ballot for the Foundling Hospital lottery. According to several references, Flinder’s child was fathered by a journeyman gardener and widower in the countryside who was already struggling to support his own children. A woman named Mrs. Wright engaged her as a wet-nurse but before the lottery was held, Flinder was able to convince Mrs. Wright to allow her to keep her own child with her.

In a letter to the board members of the Foundling Hospital, Mrs. Wright’s representative explained that Mrs. Wright agreed only because Flinder’s milk was copious and of excellent quality. But Mrs. Wright was also demanding compensation of 2s6 per week to offset the cost of keeping the infant in the household. Whitworth volunteered to pay half of the cost of keeping Flinder’s child and asked the Foundling Hospital to pay the other half since it was less expensive than admitting the child and paying for its nursing outright.

Marissa: The growing need for inexpensive wet nursing for the children of working class women strained parish poor relief systems and yield very high infant mortality rates. One powerful example is that of parish wet-nurse Hannah Poole. Poole who was cited by philanthropist Jonas Hanway when he appealed to Parliament for them to pass the Act for the Better Regulation of the Parish Poor Children (1767). Hannah Poole was paid by the parish of St. Clement Danes to host pauper women during their lying in and then to wet-nurse their illegitimate children after the births. Of the twenty-three children entrusted to Nurse Poole, eighteen died in her care, two were discharged, and three survived their infancies.

Hanway wrote, “She is certainly not qualifyed for a nurse, to keep children alive, though she seems to understand the art of lulling infants to their everlasting rest. … This woman began to prepare shrowds on the 19th of March 1765, and her last burial was on the 25th of Jan. 1766.” Hanway’s activism prompted the redirection of resources toward the Foundling Hospital which worked with the numerous London parishes to build a network of wet-nurses (later called Baby Farms) living 3-5 miles from the city center. This resulted in a marked improvement in infant mortality rates among parish infants.

Sarah: The visibility of bastard birth and foundling surrenders made bastard children more vulnerable to kidnapping. People (ridiculous people) reasoned that their mothers could not care for them properly anyway or that they might surrender them to the parish or the almshouse, or that their mother’s mistake of having a baby out of wedlock made her an unfit mother.

For example, in 1802 (you are going to hate us because this story involves TWO MORE MARYS)- a women named Mary Brown appeared at the workhouse of St. Andrews parish Holborn. She asked if any of the women who had just lain-in were in need of a wet nurse’s place. One woman, Mary Johnson, said she would love one but was currently suckling her infant and didn’t want to part with it. Brown said she knew an excellent wet nurse that would take the child for cheap so that the mother could serve as a wet nurse and charge premium rates. The next day, Brown returned and told Johnson that her baby’s new wet nurse wanted to meet the child. Johnson was too weak from childbirth to take the baby so Brown offered to take the baby and bring it back forthwith. Johnson handed over her baby to Mrs. Brown and she never saw the child again. 

Marissa: The murder of Elizabeth Rainbow is an interesting because she was both a foundling AND a pregnant servant. In 1768 a man named John Bolton applied to the Ackworth country hospital for two apprentices. Ackworth a branch of the London Foundling Hospital, one of several country hospitals. He received one boy apprentice and one girl apprentice named Elizabeth Rainbow. Six years later, the Foundling Hospital in London received correspondence from the managers at Ackworth. They had been contacted by neighbors of John Bolton. They had not seen his 18-year-old servant girl for days. He told them she ran away. But they had heard rumors that she might have been pregnant and even more rumors that he was the father. So they were worried that something had happened to her.

Marissa: The hospital notified the constable, John Hall, and Mr. Cholmey, Justice of the Peace in Bolton’s county. The Justice issued a warrant for Bolton’s arrest. Before they began an investigation, Bolton barged into the courthouse and demanded a warrant for his neighbors’ arrest on account of defamation. Once he realized they had already issued a warrant against him, Bolton raced home on his horse but the constable arrived at the same time. They went directly down into the cellar which they heard had just recently been dug and then filled in. Buried under the dirt they found the body of Elizabeth Rainbow.

Sarah: The coroner’s inquest included an autopsy which found that Rainbow was 4-5 months pregnant and had been strangled to death with a makeshift garrote he fashioned out of a stick and a thin cord. At his trial, prosecutors discovered that he had been covertly dosing Rainbow with abortifacients that had been making her ill. Of course we don’t know exactly what happened but investigators suspect that when the abortifacients were ineffective, Bolton resolved to murder Elizabeth Rainbow and hide her body so that his wife and neighbors would not discover that he had fathered a child by her.

Bolton was found guilty and sentenced to hang. He was also dissected and anatomized after his death (if you listened to our Elizabeth Brownrigg episode or our pathology episode you’ll recall this was a common punishment called post-mortem harm.) It was supposed to be humiliating but it also provided anatomical specimens for medical scientists.

Marissa: After all this heartbreak and darkness, I wanted to end today’s episode with a somewhat happier story. As we suggested earlier in the show, sometimes master and servant had a consenting, intimate relationship. Even better, they sometimes worked together to find happiness despite all of the stigma and scandal that resulted from seductions and bastard birth. Around 1748, Esther Fury became pregnant with the child of her master, Richard Lane. After the child’s birth, Lane arranged for Fury to serve as a wet nurse to another family. It is unknown where their child went during this time. He was most likely sent to a nurse nearby. Once the child was older, he was returned to the Lane household and introduced to the family as Lane’s “nephew.” Once Fury’s tenure as wet-nurse was over, she returned to live with Richard Lane for nine more years. Their relationship no longer appeared to be romantic because she married twice during that time (to other men, not to Lane). I like to think that Fury and Lane might have found a way to have an unconventional family life that allowed them to parent their son at the same time, live in the same house, but go on with their own lives independent of each other.


Binhammer, Katherine. The Seduction Narrative in Britain, 1747-1800. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012. Show Notes

Burney, Fanny. Evelina, Or, The History of a Young Lady’s Entrance into the World. London: Printed for T. Lowndes, 1779.

Cleland, John. Memoirs of the Life of Fanny Hill, or, the Career of a Woman of Pleasure. London: Printed for the booksellers, 1800.

Donoghue, Emma. Slammerkin. New York: HarperCollins, 2014. 

Hill, Bridget. Women, Work & Sexual Politics in Eighteenth-Century England. London: Routledge, 2004.

Hitchcock, Tim. Down and Out in Eighteenth-Century London. London: Hambledon Continuum, 2007.

Levene, Alysa. Childcare, Health and Mortality in the London Foundling Hospital, 1741-1800 Left to the Mercy of the World’. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2017.

The New Annual Register, Or, General Repository of History, Politics

Meteyard, Belinda. 1980. “Illegitimacy and Marriage in Eighteenth-Century England”. Journal of Interdisciplinary History (Print). 479-489.

Ranger, H. Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies, or, Men of Pleasure’s Kalender, for the Year, 1788: Containing the Histories and Some Curious Anecdotes of the Most Celebrated Ladies Now on the Town or in Keeping, and Also Many of Their Keepers. London: Printed for H. Ranger, 1788.

Rosenthal, Laura J. Infamous Commerce Prostitution in Eighteenth-Century British Literature and Culture. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2015.

Rubenhold, Hallie. Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies. London [u.a.]: Doubleday, 2012.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus. Garden City: Doubleday, 1817.

The New Annual Register, or General Repository of History, Politics, and Literature, for the Year 1804: To Which Is Prefixed, Part I, of the History of Knowledge, Learning, and Taste, in Great Britain, During the Reign of King William III. London: Printed for John Stockdale, 1805.

Williamson, William. Trial at Large of John Bolton, Gent. of Bulmer, Near Castle-Howard: For the Wilful Murder of Elizabeth Rainbow, His Apprentice Girl, on Sunday the 21st of August, 1774,

Wilson, Adrian. Ritual and Conflict: The Social Relations of Childbirth in Early Modern England. London: Routledge, 2016. Before the Hon. Sir Henry Gould, Knight. York [England]: N. Nickson, 1795.

Zunshine, Lisa. Bastards and Foundlings: Illegitimacy in Eighteenth-Century England. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2005.


Leave a Reply

Avatar placeholder

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.