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The language of the law. Part Latin, part Anglo-Saxon, all confusing.

Englishman Robert Hale has a wonderful website called Our Hale and Hayter families — Genealogy Pages, with a vast array of information about the English families from which he descends. In that website, he tells the tale of Samuel Hale, born 1806 in Middlesex, son of William and Elizabeth Hale of Hertfordshire. Samuel was a farmer, he married Sarah Troup in 1828, and they had 12 children. He died in 1871 in Bedfordshire.1

It turns out that, in 1824, when Samuel was just 18 years old, he apprehended a burglar who had broken into his father’s house and stolen “goods, monies and notes.” The young man pressed charges, the criminal was convicted, and the court in Hertfordshire issued an order that “Samuel Hale ought to be and he is hereby discharged of and from all and all manner or parish or ward offices within the said parish of Saint John.” The Hale and Hayter site has a transcript of the court order online.

What young Samuel got was called a Tyburn ticket, a “certificate which was given to the prosecutor of a felon to conviction.”2 A Tyburn ticket could be valuable, and you’ll find them referenced not only in English court records if you’re so fortunate as to trace your ancestors back to England (mine, I’m convinced, swam the Atlantic so as to leave no records whatsoever of their passage from the Old World to the New), but occasionally in church books and even in newspapers from the 18th and early 19th centuries.

In court records, in addition to the actual issuance of the document (in which, you’ll note, the term Tyburn ticket is notably absent), you may also find an assignment — a sale — of a ticket from its original holder to someone else. There’s a wonderful transcription of a sale of one of these in volume 9 of The Proceedings of the Bath Natural History and Antiquarian Field Club, of all things.3 Selling these tickets wasn’t at all unusual. They were advertised for sale in newspapers, and one reportedly sold for as much as 280 pounds in March of 1818.4

Where you’re very likely to run across Tyburn tickets is in church records. The records of St. Bartholomew’s in London, for example, note that, in 1719, parishioner Purbeck Savage delivered up a Tyburn ticket that he had bought from another parishioner in 1714 for 11 pounds, and was “thus free from all parochial service.”5 And consider this: since they were only good in one parish, which is one why parishioner sold it to another in this case from St. Bartholomew’s, if you find one advertised for sale in a port city by an ancestor whose name you can’t find on a ship passenger list, well, you may well have found the best evidence that he was about to leave for America.

So, yeah, well, that’s all very interesting, but … but… but… there’s got to be more to the story than that, don’t you think?

And oh yeah… there surely is.

The Tyburn ticket draws its name from a village in Middlesex, England, now near the Marble Arch in the City of London.6 And what was it about Tyburn that had folks referring to this as a Tyburn ticket? Well, the right to these tickets was established by the Act of 10 William III, c. 12 (1699), as a reward for prosecuting a felony to a capital conviction, and it made several crimes (such as shoplifting merchandise to the value of five shillings) capital crimes.7 What, you may ask, is a capital crime? “A crime for which the punishment of death is provided by law.”8

And Tyburn, from at least as early as the 12th century, to nearly the end of the 18th century, was known as the place in England for executions. The first recorded execution there was in 1196; a notorious gallows called the “Tyburn Tree” was erected in 1571; the last hanging there took place in 1783.9 By the time Tyburn ceased to be used for executions in England, an estimated 50,000 men, women and children had died there.10

In other words, the man for whose capture and prosecution young Samuel was rewarded with that Tyburn ticket lost his life for a crime which — had it been successful — would have netted him property worth a grand total, the court order recites, of “Five Pounds Twelve Shillings.”

Hmmm… maybe I should have saved this term for Halloween…


SOURCES

  1. Robert Hale, Our Hale and Hayter families — Genealogy Pages, “Histories, 1824” (http://ourgenealogy.co.uk/tng/showmedia.php?&mediaID=134&all=1&page=21 : accessed 8 Jan 2012).
  2. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 1195, “Tyburn ticket.”
  3. Rev. C. W. Shickle, “The Assignment of a Tyburn Ticket,” The Proceedings of the Bath Natural History and Antiquarian Field Club, vol. 9 (Bath, England : p.p., 1901), 125-128; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 8 Jan 2012).
  4. John Latimer, The Annals of Bristol in the Nineteenth Century (Bristol, England : W. & F. Morgan, 1887), 55; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 8 Jan 2012).
  5. E.A. Webb, The Records of St. Bartholomew’s Priory and of the Church of St. Bartholomew the Great, West Smithfield, vol. II (Oxford : University Press, 1921), vol. II, 340; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 8 Jan 2012).
  6. Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.com), “Tyburn,” rev. 4 Jan 2012.
  7. Latimer, The Annals of Bristol in the Nineteenth Century, 55. See also Alfred Marks, Tyburn Tree : Its History and Annals (London : Brown, Langham & Co., 1908), 220; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 8 Jan 2012).
  8. Black, A Dictionary of Law, 169, “capital crime.”
  9. Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.com), “Tyburn,” rev. 4 Jan 2012.
  10. Marks, Tyburn Tree, 3.
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