This Sunderland pink lustre mug carries three engraved portraits of William Probert, John Thurtell and Joshua Hunt plus the title The persons charged with the murder of Mr Weare. Part of a collection of 19th century lustre wares offered for sale at Chilcotts in Honiton, Devon, on February 3, it sold for a remarkable £5800 (plus 21% buyer’s premium).
Weare, a London solicitor, was killed in a dark lane near Radlett, Hertfordshire, with a pistol ball to the face and a knife to the throat on the night of October 24, 1823.
His murderer was John Thurtell, a former Royal Marine officer turned amateur boxer and promoter who owed him £300. Assisted by accomplices Joseph Hunt, a tavern landlord, and William Probert, a former convict and alcohol merchant, the corpse was dumped in Hill Slough Pond in Elstree.
The trial holds a special significance in English legal history as the last in which the accused had to defend themselves against the prosecution. Neither Thurtell, Probert or Hunt were represented by counsel; they were only permitted to speak after the evidence against them had been heard, and cross-examination of the prosecution witnesses was forbidden.
Following blanket coverage in the press, the judge lamented there could be no hope of a fair trial but it took him just 20 minutes to find them guilty.
Thurtell and Probert went to the gallows although Hunt’s sentence was commuted to transportation to Botany Bay where he later married and became a police officer.
The Sunderland mug offered in Devon is the forerunner of the ceramic figures of murderers, poisoners and criminals of passion that were sold at public hangings and fairgrounds in the Victorian era. The prints used here are versions of those that appeared in the 1824 ‘penny blood’ pamphlet The Fatal Effects of Gambling Exemplified in the Murder of Wm Weare…
It is an indication of its rarity that the piece, with an estimate of £300-500, had been restored.
The price does, nonetheless, have a recent precedent. A similar 7in (18cm) high Sunderland pink lustre jug offered by Kinghams in Moreton-In-Marsh in July 2022 sold at £5500 (as reported in ATG No 2554). It was transfer printed to each side with a grisly scene depicting the extraction of a corpse and titled Pond in which the Body of Weare was Found.