REV JAMES HACKMAN, MURDERER
The Hackman family
One member of Gosport's Hackman family appears in the Oxford DNB.
His claim to fame is to commit one of the most celebrated murders of the eighteenth century.
The family is one of comparatively few from Gosport whose sons serve in the navy.
Murderer James's grandfather, another James, is a ship's carpenter.
His sons James and William do better: they both become officers. This James, the murderer's uncle, is captain of the Launceston when he dies at Sheerness in May 1763.
He has just been appointed a Gosport trustee, but does not have the opportunity to attend a meeting.
John Goodwin elected a trustee in the Room of James Hackman deceased
From minutes of Gosport trustees, 23 August 1863.
Being unmarried, he bequeathes his estate to a collection of relatives, including nephew James.
William Hackman, the murderer's father, is lieutenant serving on the Fougeux when he dies at Halifax, 5 July 1755. He leaves two children.
Prior to an earlier voyage, and to his marriage, he has made a will that can be seen at the PRO. It leaves everything to his mother.
The will is not accepted by the authorities, but may be relevant to a chancery lawsuit, Ward v Shields (C12/1367/36), also held at the PRO, but inaccessible (probably due to its decrepit state). James Ward marries William's sister.
The Mathis family
The murderer's antecedents on his mother's side are also interesting.
She is born Mary Mathis. Her grandfather, William Mathis, married Ann Hyde, from a branch of the family that produced Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon, and his daughter Anne, mother of two British queens.
There is mention of a Hyde coat of arms in the will of Mary's mother. Mary's brother is named Hyde Mathis.
Five years after her husband's death, Mary marries James Shields and has another child.
Young James departs from family tradition by joining the army.
Nevertheless he comes to the attention of the Earl of Sandwich, First Lord of the Admiralty: possibly by being involved in a recruiting drive near the earl's home at Hinchinbrooke, near Huntingdon.
The earl invites him home, where he meets the enchanting Martha Ray. From the age of 17 she has been the earl's mistress, and has borne him nine children.
Nevertheless she and James Hackman strike up an intimate relationship, and he fancies she will marry him.
To avoid being posted abroad (this is during the American War of Independence) he leaves the army and enters the priesthood. He writes to her about prospects of a living in Norfolk.
Her response is cool. Has she gone off him? Is Sandwich putting pressure on her to stay?
Or could it be something even more hateful?
Suspecting she had a new lover, he followed her to the Covent Garden Theatre on 7 April 1779, where she was attending a performance of “Love in a Village”. Having seen her talking to Lord Coleraine, whom he assumed to be her lover, he stormed out of the theatre, obtained two pistols and waited in the nearby Bedford Coffee House.
From Oxford DNB entry for Rev James Hackman
I saw two ladies and a gentleman coming out of the playhouse; a gentleman in black followed them. Lady Sandwich’s coach was called. When the carriage came up, the gentleman handed the other lady into the carriage; the lady that was shot stood behind. Before the gentleman could come back to hand her into the carriage the gentleman in black came up, laid hold of her by the gown, and pulled out of his pocket two pistols; he shot the right hand pistol at her, and the other at himself. She fell with her hand so (describing it as being on her forehead) and died before she could be got to the first lamp. I believe she died immediately, for her head hung directly. At first I was frightened at the report of the pistol, and ran away. He fired another pistol, and dropped immediately. They fell feet to feet. He beat himself violently over the head with his pistols, and desired somebody would kill him.
From evidence of fruitseller Mary Anderson
The publicity around the trial generates a lot of sympathy for Hackman. Sandwich, on the other hand, receives much of the blame: he has already made himself unpopular through his conduct of naval hostilities.
Hackman travelled to Tyburn in a mourning coach accompanied by a friend, the Revd Moses Porter, curate of Holy Trinity Church, Clapham, the Revd John Villette, the ordinary of Newgate, and Mr Davenport, the sheriff’s officer.
From Oxford DNB entry for Rev James Hackman
Links with Cort
Though none of the Hackmans use Cort's services regularly during his time as an agent, he does collect one significant remittance.
Murderer James's grandmother, as widow of a ship's carpenter, has been receiving a regular pension from the navy. When she dies, her son James, as executor, uses Cort to collect her final remittance.
The only other documentary link found so far is the codicil to Hyde Mathis's will.
Though Mathis has spent most of his life in the Gosport area, he has moved to Arundel before making the will.
Then he moves to London, where he evidently runs into Henry Cort.
A Codicil to be annexed to the last Will and Testament of me Hyde Mathis late of Arundel in the County of Sussex but now of Tottenham Court Road in the County of Middlesex Esquire – Whereas I have in and by my last Will and Testament nominated constituted and appointed Sir Harry Goring Baronet and William Peachey Esquire to be Trustees and Executors of my last will and Testament Now I do hereby nominate constitute and appoint Henry Cort of Devonshire Street Queen Square in the County of Middlesex Gentleman to be a Trustee and Executor of my said will together with the said Sir Harry Goring and William Peachey.
From codicil to will of Hyde Mathis, 8 August 1797.
The codicil suggests they were close friends in Gosport, and may give a further clue to Cort's character.
Mathis is uncle to a convicted murderer in a notorious case. One can imagine that some of the good folk of Gosport would shun anyone connected with Rev James Hackman.
But some of Mathis's friends stick by him.
The codicil's description of Cort as "gentleman" also gives a clue about Cort's status at the time (June 1796), and should put paid to any notion that he is still an undischarged bankrupt.