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Forum Home > Halesowen and Hasbury History. > Halesowen Rick Burner.1818.

Alaska.
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Rebbeca, ( or Rebekah ) Hodges, was born in Halesowen, the daughter of Philip and Constant Hodges, on 1st April, 1781. The main employment at this time was either on the land, nailmaking, or for young girls, domestic service. She seems to have opted for the latter, as in 1802, she was taken on by Samuel Birch, a respected farmer at Ward End, near Birmingham. At this time, Ward End was in the very large Parish of Aston, which was in Warwickshire, as of course, was Birmingham. She was employed as a servant, and for nine months, her conduct was good. Then, for reasons not explained, she disappeared for two days, and when she returned, Mr Birch dispenced with her services. Rebbeca was not pleased with the outcome, and after making threats, finally accepted the situation, and left. Whatever had caused her to go missing, and lose her job we shall never now know, but it festered within her many years, until 1809. It has to be said, for an uneducated woman from Halesowen, she showed a remarkable degree of cunning and planning when trying to exact her revenge. Taking her brothers double barrelled pistol, after first casting some bullets for it herself, she dressed in mens clothes, and sneaked off to Ward End, to sort out Mr Birch. Hiding in an outbuilding, she waited for darkness, then, making sure he was alone, she quietly entered the farm house. Mr Birch was asleep in a chair by the fire, when she pointed the pistol at him, and pulled the triggers. The first shot completely missed, the second lodged in the poor mans head. Before anyone could get down the stairs, she fled the scene, totally unrecognised, and got clean away. She was found several hours later, by a Birmingham Watchman, wondering about with the by re-loaded pistol in her hand. It was only when she was being searched in the small prison, that her true gender was discovered. Poor Mr Birch, rushed off to Hospital on a farm waggon, he underwent a very painful process called " Trepanning ", thats drilling a large hole in the head, with something that looks like a large Brace and Bit. They did remove the bullet though, and Mr Birch survived the drastic operation. At the Lent Assizes at Warwick, surprise, surprise, Rebbeca Hodges was found not Guilty of attempted Murder, ( a Hanging offence ) on account of her Insanity, but sent to prison instead. Was she really Insane, we shall she in the next part.


Rebbeca was confined to the County Gaol in Warwick. Under the care of Mr. Henry Tatnall, the gaols Govenor, for the next seven years, who was a bit surprised, when he was ordered to send her to the New Bethlehem Lunatic Asylem, in London. She had not displayed any sign of Insanity while there, and when she arrived, on 25th November 1816, Mr George Wallett, the medical officer, examined her and declared her sane. She was released on 25th of August 1817. Had the years got rid of the canker that riddled her mind about Mr Birch though, had it hell. Back in Birmingham, she began to plot her revenge, all over again. On the night of 12th December,1817, barely 4 months after her release, Mr Birch's stack of Hay, and 2 ricks of Wheat, went up in flames, destroying a large part of them, before the fire engines from Birmingham could reach the scene. ( Hand pumps, and horse drawn remember ) Once again, she escaped unseen and unrecognised, or so she thought, but this time she was very careless. William Blizzard, a farmer just down the road from Mr Birch, gave a discription of a woman he had seen leaving the area. Following a statement from Mr Birch, as to whom he thought could have done such a thing, George Redfern, one of Birmingham's assistant constables, who knew Rebbeca Hodges of old, apprehended her in some lodgings in Aston Street, Birmingham. She of course denied setting the fire. In fairly quick order, a piece of distinctive cloth, which was found at the scene, was matched to some found in her possesions. Not far away, a tinder box was found by a Bricklayer, together with another piece of the same cloth. It was handed to William Payne, who was one of the High Constables of Birmingham, and he had the cloth compared by a Tailor. It was found to match perfectly, even down to the stitching. Her alibi was that she had been on the road to Halesowen, helping a friend with a heavy basket, and then went to her brothers house near Shenstone, Lichfield. This was not accepted by the Jury at her trial, which started at 9.00am on Saturday 4th April,1818. Her language during the proceeding was to say the least, a bit colourful, and she accused most of the witness'es of lying, and making it all up. It took the jury just 3 minutes, yes, you read that correctly, 3 minutes, to find her guilty of Arson, which carried an automatic sentence of Death by Hanging. The Court Crier called everyone to order, " O yez! My Lords the Kings Justices do strictly charge and command all manner of persons to keep silence, whilst Sentence of Death is passing on the Prisoner at the bar, upon pain of imprisonment ." And while the judge, Mr Baron Garrow did just that, Rebbeca Hodges began to plead for her life. She was still doing so, when she was removed from the dock, and taken to her cell.


By any accounts, it was a harsh sentence for burning a bit of straw, a fact not lost in Scotland the year before, 1817, when, in Ayr, Margaret Crossen was executed for a similar offence. Even closer to home, just 7 days after Rebbeca Hodges was convicted, John Burlow, was hanged outside Hereford County Gaol, for rick burning. This hanging may have made an impact, on what subsequently happened to Rebbeca, for John Burlow was only just turned 16. In the event, Rebbeca was not hanged, there is no record of it being carried out, and the woman from Halesowen was once again lucky to still be alive. I don't know what happened to her, but I suspect, this time, she would have been found insane, and locked up for a very long time. Well at least while Mr Samuel Birch was still alive and kicking.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

September 17, 2011 at 4:49 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

Well, I got to thinking, just what did happen to Rebbeca Hodges, so I have done a bit of searching. Following her being found guilty, and sentenced to Death, on 4th April, 1818, she apparently made an appeal. On the 28th April, she was again up in front of Justice Garrow, who this time, commuted her Death sentence to " Transportation for 7 years ".  She was taken back to Warwick Gaol, and then sent to a Prison Hulk, ( an old wooden Warship, moored at Spithead, Gosport, Portsmouth, or Gravesend. ) to await the next ship bound for Australia.  By this date, they had seperated the woman prisoners from the men, each being dispatch in different ships. Rebbeca had to endure the terrible conditions on board the hulk , until October 1819, when a ship was available. The Ship, Lord Wellington, sailed from Dublin with some Irish woman prisoners, and collected about a hundred from Spithead, including Rebbeca, the total was 120. Lord Wellingtons exact date of sailing for the colonies of New South Wales, is not recorded, but her date of arrival is, 20th January, 1820. Rebbeca Hodges, or Hodgetts,  which is recorded as her alias, was a very lucky woman to have escaped the drop.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

September 19, 2011 at 2:34 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

The ship docked at what later became Sydney, and Rebbeca was sent to a place called Parramatta, where the authorites had built a factory for the woman. On the 28th May, 1827, by which time I presume she had finished her sentence, she got married. Thomas Wilkins was the lucky man, and they chose Saint Johns Cathedral, in which to tie the knot. He was then 53 years old, and there is no record of him ever being a convict. She was then 44, and as I can't find any record of any children, I assume there are no Australian relatives.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

September 21, 2011 at 11:56 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Unicorn
Member
Posts: 46

It is always nice to know what happened to people who got transported.Good piece of research Alaska.

September 21, 2011 at 1:22 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

The first thought today, on reading a report of a barn full of Hay going up in smoke is " Arson ". In many cases however, this is simply not true, and the cause has been well known for hundreds of years. Piles,or bales of hay can, and still do, Spontanously Combust . Not that this was the cause in the case above, but a few poor farm Labourers have been hung in ignorance of the facts. Hay, and other crops, baled, or stacked when wet and damp, are the root cause. Most farmers knew the hazards when cutting, but failed to appreciate that even supposedly dry Hay, could still combust even after several months of storage. Observation and Ventilation were the answers, but many left it to their farm labourers to report any problems. So, when the stack caught fire in October or November, and to make sure the farmer could collect his insurance money, someone had to be blamed. And of course, due to long hours and low pay, there were a great many disgruntled and out of work farm hands about. At least one men was hanged in Shropshire, on the rather shaky evidence of a local, and mostly drunken, Beer house keeper, and several more transported for life. Valuable stuff then, was a pile of old Hay. There were though, during what became known as the " Swing Riots " , between October and December 1830, many cases of deliberate Arson in the rural areas. The main target of these riots, were the newly introduced horse powered Threshing Machines, which of course subsequently led to even more humble farm workers being left without jobs. No serious punishments were handed out for those caught or suspected of assisting one " Captain Swing ", unlike the riots of later years, when many supporters of " General Luddite ", paid for their protests with their lives.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

November 16, 2012 at 2:45 PM Flag Quote & Reply

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