A Serious copy of Verses on the late Miss Wray.


A Serious copy of Verses on the late Miss Wray.


James Hackman kills Martha Wray and is imprisoned in Newgate awaiting trial. Singer calls for his execution.

Digital Object

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British Library - Roxburghe Shelfmark: C.20.f.9.768; EBBA 31497


YE tender fair come hear a ditty,
Tragical my tale does run,
Or a murder mores the pity, Was at Covent Garden, done,
On a kind and pretty woman,
By a Minister were told,
For her constancy he killd her, Not to rob her of her gold.
It seems he had his education, At the University,
And first of all bore a commision, But no promotion like to be,
Four years ago the gownd assumed, Perswaded by his friends they say,
Then cast his eyes as were informed, On the beauty of Miss Wray.
To her he oft paid his addresses, But never could obtain his end,
She told the Earl, her noble keeper, Who was to him a worthy friend,
But this was nothing all he wanted, Was Miss Wray for whore or wife
But as neither could be granted, Was resolvd to have her life.
He with two loaded pistols met her, Just as she came from the play,
Rushd up and not a word did utter, With one he took her life away,
The other for himself designed, But his life is spaird you see,
Not worthy of a death so sudden, But a public sight to be.
Now in Newgate is confined, Till his trial does come on,
Its hoped to death hell be resigned, Alas! alas! unhappy man,
Who did not look a little ferther, Solid happiness to see,
But must go to do a murder,
His own murderer for to be.
See a mother none more kinder, From five children robbd of life,
The character shes left behind her, May be copyd by each wife,
Friendly courteous and oblinging, Unto all came in her way,
Is the character ye fair ones, Of the late worthy Miss Wray.

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Wikipedia:  James Hackman (baptized 13 December 1752, hanged 19 April 1779), briefly Rector of Wiveton in Norfolk, was the murderer who killed Martha Ray, singer and mistress of John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich.

In about 1775, while he was a serving army officer, Hackman visited Lord Sandwich's house at Hinchingbrooke and met his host's mistress Martha Ray. She was "a lady of an elegant person, great sweetness of manners, and of a remarkable judgement and execution in vocal and instrumental music" who had lived with Lord Sandwich as his wife since the age of seventeen and had given birth to nine of his children. Sandwich also had a wife, from whom he was separated, who was considered mad and who lived in an apartment at Windsor Castle. This was the same Lord Sandwich who is said to have called for a piece of beef between two pieces of bread, thus originating the word sandwich. He was a patron of the explorer Captain James Cook, who named the Sandwich Islands after him.

Hackman struck up a friendship with Martha Ray (who was several years older than he was) and was later reported to have become besotted with her. They may have become lovers and discussed marriage, but this is disputed. Although rich, Sandwich was usually in debt and offered Martha Ray no financial security. However, whatever was between Hackman and Martha Ray ended when he was posted to Ireland.

On 7 April 1779, a few weeks after his ordination as a priest of the Church of England, Hackman followed Martha Ray to Covent Garden, where she had gone to watch a performance of Isaac Bickerstaffe's comic opera Love in a Village with her friend and fellow singer Caterina Galli. Suspecting that Ray had a new lover, when Hackman saw her in the theatre with William Hanger, Lord Coleraine, he left, fetched two pistols, and waited in a nearby coffee house. After Ray and Galli came out of the theatre, Hackman approached the ladies just as they were about to get into their carriage. He put one pistol to Ray's forehead and shot her dead. With the other he then tried to kill himself but made only a flesh wound. He then beat himself with both discharged pistols until he was arrested and taken, with Martha Ray's body, into a tavern in St James's Street. Two letters were found on Hackman, one addressed to his brother-in-law, Frederick Booth, and a love letter to Martha Ray: both later appeared in evidence at the murder trial.

When Lord Sandwich heard what had happened, he "wept exceedingly".

On 14 April 1779, Martha Ray was entombed inside the parish church of Elstree, Hertfordshire, but her body was later moved into the cemetery. On the instructions of Lord Sandwich, she was buried in the clothes she had been wearing when killed.

Hackman was hanged at Tyburn on 19 April 1779. He travelled there in a mourning coach, accompanied by the sheriff's officer and two fellow clergymen, the Rev. Moses Porter, a curate friend from Clapham, and the Rev. John Villette, the chaplain of Newgate Prison. James Boswell later denied rumours that he had also been in the coach.

At Tyburn, "Hackman... behaved with great fortitude; no appearances of fear were to be perceived, but very evident signs of contrition and repentance". His body was later publicly dissected at Surgeons' Hall, London.




“A Serious copy of Verses on the late Miss Wray.,” Execution Ballads, accessed April 25, 2024, https://omeka.cloud.unimelb.edu.au/execution-ballads/items/show/857.

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