The life of George Lovell fits many of the stereotypes concerning eighteenth-century gypsies, but those stereotypes may have also shaped his treatment by the courts.
George Lovell, alias "Gipsey George", was born in Rumford, Essex around 1742 into a gypsy family. During his childhood he followed the tinker trade of his family. In the summers he would ply his trade in the village, and during the winters he went to earn money in London. Lovell lodged in the parish of St Giles in the Fields during these stays and it was here that he first became acquainted with his future accomplice Thomas Crookall. This can be seen as the beginning of his descent into crime, as Lovell was introduced into the world of organised theft. It was here that he, in his own words, "commenced thief".
Lovell's first criminal trial at the Old Bailey did not occur until he was about 26. In 1768 he was tried for his role in killing a man named Richard Berry, another gypsy, in a fight near Tottenham Court Road. The court heard that after an arranged fight involving Berry and another man, Lovell and Berry exchanged "some words", and a second fight ensued. The men stripped and were surrounded by a ring of spectators. The fight was "thought to be a very fair battle". Lovell knocked his opponent down, and jumped for joy at his apparent victory, but Berry's second encouraged him to resume the fight. After a short spell Lovell struck Berry in the face, caving in his temple. Berry died about half an hour later. Lovell admitted his involvement in the fight and, as was typical of jury verdicts on arranged fights, was found guilty of manslaughter only. He was sentenced to be branded on the hand and imprisonment for six months in Newgate Prison.
Lovell should have been released around March 1769, and less than a year later he was mentioned in the trial of John Murphy for burglary. Murphy was charged with stealing from the house of a gentleman on Southampton Row, and Gipsey George was named by Thomas Crookhall, who had turned king's evidence, as the man standing watch. Though no proceedings were brought against Lovell at this time and Murphy was acquitted, this trial probably reflects the company Lovell was keeping at this time.
The allegations may well have been true, as less than two years later Lovell was before the court again for his involvement in two highway robberies on consecutive days in June 1772. The first of these was successful. Lovell and his acquaintance, Benjamin Murphy, robbed Jeremiah Godwin, a collar-maker, at gun point of four guineas when he was crossing the fields leading from Paddington to Marylebone. (The two thieves were described as footpads.) The next day, Lovell and Murphy attempted a similar robbery of Thomas Collier, a coachman, on the Islington Road, although this crime was unsuccessful. Even under threat of being shot, Collier was unwilling to succumb to the robbers and threw Lovell to the ground, as Murphy ran off. Collier then "collared" Lovell and took him to the nearest town and constable, though not before Lovell could dispose of his gun. Collier then reported the robbery to Sir John Fielding.
Lovell was tried separately for each robbery. In the first trial, Godwin testified that Lovell presented a pistol to him and said "your money! your money! or you are a dead man". Godwin complied, and testified that he was not frightened. His companion, Elizabeth Hull, described Lovell as having "a very swarthy face". In his defence, Lovell could only say "My Lord, they have sworn very falsely".
In the second trial it was more difficult for Lovell to deny the facts, since he had been apprehended in the act, so he only said, "I hope to be recommended to the mercy of the court. I am a tinker by trade." He was nonetheless convicted of both crimes and sentenced to death. It is possible that in his treatment by the criminal justice system Lovell was the victim of prejudice against gypsies. Since the Old Bailey Proceedings reported Lovell's previous appearance at the Old Bailey when he was convicted of manslaughter, it is also likely that the jury and judge both knew about his past, making them less likely to show any mercy. But in any case since crimes involving violence were seen as particularly egregious, the court was unlikely to show mercy.
George Lovell was executed by August 5, 1772. In the last surviving Ordinary's Account published, the Ordinary reported that before his execution Lovell acknowledged to him "that he been concerned in many robberies, though he had done very little in house-breaking", meaning that he had only stolen things of small value. He said that his "chief business" was "in picking pockets, and that he used to attend at the play-houses for that purpose. He said that he had been twelve times before the Justices, but had always escaped, as there was not sufficient proof against him." He identified Benjamin Murphy as his acquaintance, but it is not known whether this was the same man as his 1770 accomplice John Murphy. Lovell and Murphy were never charged at the Old Bailey with picking pockets.
The Ordinary, John Wood, was shocked by Lovell's ignorance and lack of religion. He could neither read nor write, and told the Ordinary he had never been to church. "He said, that he had scarce ever heard of Christ... And when spoken to, before admitted to the Lord's table, ... he knew not what it meant."
Wood claimed some success in educating Lovell, for on the day of his execution Lovell told him:
Lovell was executed along with one other convict, John Devine, also accused of robbery. The papers reported that at Tyburn the two "behaved with great decency, and acknowledged the justness of their sentences".1 They had, in fact, every right to be bitter, given that they were the only two men who were executed out of ten who were capitally convicted at the July sessions.2 But perhaps Lovell had given the authorities plenty of reasons to execute him.
Two months later, his accomplice Benjamin Murphy was tried for the robbery of Thomas Collier. Following the apprehension of Lovell, Collier claimed he was not "desirous to have him", but after Murphy's arrest Fielding sent for Collier and he identified Murphy as the other man who had robbed him. With positive identifications from both Murphy and his companion, Murphy was convicted and sentenced to death. He was executed on November 18th.3
- Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser. 5 August 1772.
- Middlesex Journal or Universal Evening Post. 4 August 1772.
- Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser. 19 November 1772.
1 Middlesex Journal or Universal Evening Post, 4 August 1772. ⇑
2 Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, 5 August 1772. ⇑
3 Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser, 19 November 1772. ⇑