nonfiction

Murder Will Out! Death of the Landlord (1730)

We’re still in the researching and exploration writing stage of the historical fiction slasher REDSTONE, or, the ‘Bloody Beach’ Murders, by Two Persons Intimately Acquainted With The Case, and I’m still finding lots of snippets that I don’t know if we can use or not. Little details like the poor missing lad who was found dead in a ditch eaten by dogs (boys, walk each other home) and various other gruesome and tragic things. Throwaway references to incidents like this are referencing these newspapers and pamphlets, just transposed to the fictional locality of the story setting [somewhere near Whitby/Robin Hood’s Bay in Yorkshire].

My search terms in the Eighteenth Century Collections Online have basically been things like “horrid murder” and “horrible murder” to see what I can get, and this popped up in an Edinburgh publication: MURDER WILL OUT, Or an Account of a horrible Murder committed several Years ago, on the Body of Sir Michael Balfour of Denmill which has been most wonderfully discovered a few Days ago.

The pamphlet page is below and my transcript is beneath.

Murder will out, Or An account of a horrible murder committed several years ago, on the body of Sir Michael Balfour of Denmill, which has been most wonderfully discovered a few days ago
Date: [1730]
Publisher: s.n. ([Edinburgh])

Full Transcript:

MURDER WILL OUT, Or an Account of a horrible Murder committed several Years ago, on the Body of Sir Michael Balfour of Denmill which has been most wonderfully discovered a few Days ago.

The Honoured Sir Michael Balfour of Denmill Bar, a Gentleman of Great Worth, descended from the Lord Burleigh‘s Family, in the County of Fife, having about 14 or 15 Years ago, gone abroad from his own House on Horseback for Health and Recreation, according to his usual Custom, unattended by any, alighted at one of his Farmers Houses, remote from Neighbourhood, to breakfast on the homely Provision it afforded, and crave the Deficiencies of the Man’s Rent, who had run deep in Arrears, the Tenant overjoy’d at the Hononr [sic] the Baron had done him, gave Provender to his Horse, and set his Wife to work for entertaining his Landlord with the coarse Chear [sic] his Farm produc’d, and Fire and Floor were made snug and clean. The Woman counterfit a great deal of Joy ; and like the treacherous Jael, the Wife of Heber the Kenite, She gave him Milk, and brought forth Butter in a lordly Dish, whilst, like her, she was ready to put her Hand to the Nail to pierce and strike thro’ his Temples. After, this diabolical Couple, foolishly imagining the Death of the Gentleman would procure an Acquittance of their Debt in a Corner of the House, concert, That the Husband while she was serving Sir Michael at Breakfast, should pull out his Sword, and sheath it in his Body, which he, assisted by the old Seducer, wickedly accomplished by running it down his Back to the Hilts.

This nefarious and execrable Action, was perpetrat with such Secrecy, tha[t] no Eye beheld it, save the Eye of him who understands our Thoughts afar off, and spies out all our Ways ; and of these hellish Miscreants, the Actors and an Infant Daughter of their’s [sic] too, too feeble to assist them, and as uncapable to made a Discovery, making fast the Door, they next proceed to h [word is missing]
interring him in that very Spot of the Floor where the fatal Tragedy w [word is missing]
and then to keep from Discovery, they consult a fresh, the Death and [word is missing]
of the Horse, whom they dispatched with the Sword, yet smoaking [sic] with [the? word is missing]
Blood of it’s [sic] Master, and digging in the Corn-yard a Grave, threw the [word is missing]
unskin’d with the Acoutrements into it, and shortly after built a [word is missing]
Corn upon it. The Relations of the Defunct admiring he did not [word is missing – return that?]
Night, made Search for him in every Corner of the Country, wi[thout??] [word is missing]
Intelligence ; and some Weeks runing [sic] without any Account of him f[rom ??Edin-??]
burgh, or any where else, they prosecuted their Enquiry to all Sea-[word is missing]
at Home and Aroad [sic], and advertised in our Courants for a Disco[very??]
in vain, they could never learn any Thing about him, to the g[rief of???]
his own People and others, who had the Happiness to know [him??]
mean time, his wicked Destroyers lock’d uq [sic] the Secret in th[eir] Bosoms and fell not under the least Suspicion. When the Farm[er did??] grapple with Death, he found a fiercer Enemy to conntend [sic] with [word is missing] Conscience, but the cunning Fiend his Wife, kept his Sickne[ss] secret, sent for no Minister, and gagg’d his Mouth when [word is missing]
reveal. And sometime thereafter died her self Impenitent.

[The Daughter] now grown up to a Woman, who surviv’d her cursed Parents, six Weeks ago visited with Sickness, which terminated in Death, her Conscience, by a plain Confession, directed to the Place wh[ere Den-]mel’s Corps were hid, and the Spot being opened, his R[word is missing] and buried in the Sepulchre of the Family.


TL:DR Version

Sir Michael Balfour of Denmill rose out alone one day and visited a farming couple to demand rent from them, since they were in arrears. He also expected breakfast, so they made him some and the farmer and his wife murdered him (the farmer ran him through with a sword and used the same sword to slay Sir Micahel’s horse). He buried the horse in the corn-yard with all the accoutrements (saddle, bridle, etc) and buried the murdered landlord in the spot where he killed him, and planted crops on top.

The Farmer almost confessed at his death but the wife gagged him, kept his death a secret and didn’t send for a minister or doctor. She died later on. The couple’s daughter had been a very young child at the time of the murder but she knew all about it and confessed at her own death. She was clearly very young when she died, and “a woman” could refer to an older teen.

Sir Michael was discovered and entombed in his family sepulchre.


Glossary, References, Allusions

Sir Michael Balfour of Denmill: Family tree here (National Library of Scotland); some information on the House mentioned can be found in Scotland’s Places digital archive.

Jael, the Wife of Heber the Kenite: Biblical [Old Testament] allusion to a heroine in the Book of Judges, who saved Israel by defeating killing Sisera, commander of the opposing army, in her tent. She offered him hospitality to trick him into lying down and then drove a tent peg through his head as he slept.

The “Song of Deborah” (Judg. 5:24–26) recounts:

Extolled above women be Jael,
Extolled above women in the tent.
He asked for water, she gave him milk;
She brought him cream in a lordly dish.
She stretched forth her hand to the nail,
Her right hand to the workman’s hammer,
And she smote Sisera; she crushed his head,
She crashed through and transfixed his temples.

Here, as in the 14thC and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Jael is not celebrated as a heroine but her actions are interpreted as wicked and treacherous, as it involves killing a man of higher status through subterfuge, which didn’t sit well within the British/English framework of feudalism and treason/treachery discourse, nor later in the class discourse and constructions of gender roles. This interpretation is divorced from the Biblical praise of Jael by her contemporaries and is rooted in fears and warnings of over-powerful women, seen to upend the social order. European artistic and literary depictions of Jael placed her in the ‘Power of Women’ topos, defined by Susan L. Smith as “the representational practice of bringing together at least two, but usually more, well-known figures from the Bible, ancient history, or romance to exemplify a cluster of interrelated themes that include the wiles of women, the power of love, and the trials of marriage”.[3] Smith argues that the topos is not simply a “straightforward manifestation of medieval antifeminism”; rather, it is “a site of contest through which conflicting ideas about gender roles could be expressed”.[4][5]

Here in this pamphlet, the author is taking this topos and applying it entirely negatively, although it is the husband who does the actual slaying.

the old Seducer : the Devil

save the Eye of him who understands our Thoughts afar off, and spies out all our Ways : God; the author is referencing Psalm 139:2-3.

concert : conferred together, consulted each other, made a plan together

yet smoaking with the Blood of its Master : as blood is body temperature, slaughtered animals (and people) can appear to steam as the warmth is let out (in winter, e.g), so you have the somewhat exaggerated, vivid descriptions of blood ‘steaming’ or ‘smoking’ in the air when it’s fresh.


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