The Sole Society, a Family History Society researching Sole, Saul, Sewell, Solley and similar names

John Saull - Wanted for Murder

An Update

By John Slaughter

This article was originally published in the April 2002 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society.


Some long standing members may recall that we have previously told the story of a John Saull from Byfield who was “wanted for murder”.

Looking back through the journals I found that the original report appeared in the April 1995 edition. As a good number of our current members will probably not have heard this story before I think it is worth recapping what we reported then.

The information came from reports in the Northamptonshire Mercury. A Reward Notice appeared there on 21 March 1783.

“ESCAPED FROM JUSTICE, John Saull of the parish of Byfield in the county of Northamptonshire, by trade a cooper (and formertimes works at the bottlemaking and bendware branches) aged about 29, five feet eight or nine inches high, high broad face, has a rough voice, dark brow, hair inclined to curl, dark complexion, grey eyes and rather round shouldered. Had on light mixed grey coat and waistcoat with metal buttons, corduroy breeches, round hat and plated shoebuckles if not altered. The said John Saull stands charged with the murder of Sarah Bush of Byfield aforesaid. Whoever will apprehend the said John Saull and lodge him in any of his majesty’s gaols, and give immediate notice thereof to Rich’ Harris the constable of Byfield aforesaid shall receive the sum of FOUR GUINEAS reward.”

The circumstances of the murder were reported in the Northamptonshire Mercury on 7 April 1783.

“Last Saturday night an inquisition was held at Byfield, in this county before Samuel Smith, gent, on view of the body of Sarah Bush of the parish, who died by the effects of poison. On the examination of witness’s it appeared that the deceased was with child, by one John Saull, a cooper of the same town, who persuaded her to accompany him to a hayrick near Byfield on the pretence of giving her honey, in which he infused a quantity of mercury, in order to incur an abortion, She accordingly drank something disagreeable and proceeded to vomit, which he prevented by holding her head up. The unfortunate woman languished from Sunday on to Friday the 19th inst, but expired. The jury brought in their verdict of murder, by the above John Saull, but notwithstanding capture he escaped justice.”

We had identified this John Saull as having been baptised at Byfield on 27 October 1754, the son of James Saull and Rebecca Brooks. John married Hannah Saul at Horley, Oxon on 5 July 1776 and had two known children Hannah born about 1779 and Mary baptised 5 March 1781 at Byfield. The mother Hannah Saul I had taken as being the Hannah baptised at Horley on 29 September 1756 the daughter of James Saul and Mary, though I had no particular evidence for this - just that it fitted.

There the story remained until I recently received an e-mail from Catherine King who had been researching the Farebrother family of Byfield. Catherine had come across a note in the baptism registers of Byfield against the entry for the baptism of a Richard Farebrother on 11 June 1785, which read.

“The birth of this last child, being attended with particular circumstances, ought to be recorded. The mother, Hannah Saul, (who calls herself the wife of Richard Farebrother and sayes she was married to him in London, after being absent only a few days) is the wife of one John Saul, who is now living, but absconded about 2 years ago to avoid tryal having been found guilty of murder by a Coroners Inquest”.

This entry raises several interesting points. Firstly it seems to confirm that John made a successful flight from justice. Secondly the writer is clearly sceptical that Richard Farebrother and Hannah had married, and I would have thought that such a marriage would, in any event, not have been legal. (Does there not have to be a seven year absence before death can be presumed, or were the rules different in 1785?). Thirdly, and perhaps most notable, is that this entry appears not to have been found before despite the Byfield Saulls having been subject to significant research. Could it be that researchers had worked from the parish register transcript and not the original registers? (I have to hold my hand up here as well). Why bother to look at the difficult to read originals when some kind person had prepared a neat transcript listing. Well now we know the answer.

Catherine was able to confirm that Richard Farebrother and Hannah had several more children and that the burial of Hannah Farebrother is recorded in the Byfield burial registers on 12 January 1840, aged 84 years. This ties in beautifully with my assumed baptism entry for Hannah at Horley

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