Edward Kirk, fl. 1684

Vintner and Wife Murderer

Edward Kirk was a vintner, and he and his wife Joan lived with his master. Joan was a servant at a gentleman’s house in Old Fish Street. In the eyes of the Ordinary of Newgate, Edward's guilt in murdering Joan was compounded by his subsequent attempts to deny responsibility for the crime.

An Afternoon Walk

According to Sarah Miller, a fellow servant to Joan and witness at the subsequent trial, Edward came to their master’s house on Sunday 25 May, sometime between three and four o’clock in the afternoon. Edward asked his wife to come with him and see a cousin who lived at Fields-Side. Joan refused to go as she "had not Cloaths good enough to go a Visiting". Edward explained that this cousin was leaving for the country the next day, and that he was not ashamed of her clothes. Joan agreed to go after borrowing a hood and a scarf from Miller. Miller noted that before leaving for Fields-Side, Edward had insisted that Joan bring her wedding ring with her.

Joan did not return that Sunday evening. After several days Miller went to see Edward to enquire what had become of Joan and the hood and scarf she had borrowed. Edward told Miller that he had returned Joan to her master’s door on Old Fish Street that same Sunday night and had not seen her since.

An unspecified time after her disappearance, a mower found Joan Kirk dead in a field near Paddington. The mower stated that she had her throat cut and that her face and head looked like they had been beat and bruised.

Suspicion was cast upon Edward as he was the last to see her, and he was arrested and brought to Newgate Prison. Upon arrival in Newgate a knife was found in Edward’s pocket and removed for fear he might take his own life. Edward apparently confessed to the crime during an investigation by Captain Richardson. The Ordinary reports that Edward told him "that he would at his Tryal Plead Guilty, and beg, God and the Kings Mercy".

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The Trial

However, when Edward Kirk was tried at the Old Bailey on 2 July 1684 for the murder of his wife, he pleaded not guilty.

Sarah Miller provided the first evidence with her account of Edward’s behaviour on the Sunday afternoon he took Joan out. This was followed by the evidence of Edward’s former master. He explained that he had given Edward the day off and that Edward had left home at two o’clock and did not return until seven o’clock that evening. He observed that when Edward returned he was "in a very great Heat, and like a discomposed Person".

The main evidence emerged from the mower, who had found alongside the body "the Ferrel of a Stick or Cain" - a metal band to prevent the stick from splitting. The ferrule fitted a cane which, the master vintner confirmed, he had lent to Edward that day. He went on to say that Edward had brought the cane back "without a Ferrel, and on it some Specks like Blood". Captain Richardson said that during Edward’s initial confession he had stated he beat Joan with that cane and used the same knife taken from him in Newgate to cut her throat.

In his defence, Edward argued that he was drunk when he had made his earlier confession. He restated that he had gone away from the field with Joan and that he left her outside his master's house. Edward testified that four or five people saw him with her outside his master’s house, but they were all in the country and so could not give evidence till the next sessions.

The jury decided the evidence weighed too heavily against him and he was found guilty of wilful murder and sentenced to death.

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Motivation for the Crime

In the Account of the case published by Samuel Smith, the Ordinary of Newgate, Edward’s motivation for the murder is explored. According to Smith, Edward had been in the crowd at the execution of John Gower on 23 May. Gower, who was hanged for the murder of his wife, caused dismay by his initial reluctance to admit to his crime on the scaffold.

Edward told Smith that after Gower's execution, having returned home from Tyburn, that "Satan suggested him to Murder his own Wife within one hour after". Initially Edward refused this suggestion and prayed against the temptation, though he admits to Smith "not so fervently as he ought".

Edward’s change of mind occurred at six o’clock in the morning on Sunday. "He then contrived how to draw her out in the After-noon to walk with him into the Fields." The Account details how, having lured his wife into a gravel pit, they had begun arguing and he beat her with his cane. Edward then threatened her with his knife and Joan pleaded "Lord have Mercy on my Soul, Was ever a Woman so barbarously Murdered?"

Following the crime Edward acted as if nothing had happened. This was most worrying to Smith: not only did Edward repeat the crime of someone he had seen executed, but he successfully hid the crime for weeks. This explains why almost an entire edition of the Ordinary’s Account was dedicated to the case.

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Future Warnings

Smith emphasised that Kirk seemed "more affected with his Horrid Crime" after his trial than he had done before. Most of the material in the Ordinary’s Account was apparently printed at the request of the penitent Edward. He left Smith with two prayers which he"desired might be Printed with his Advice to Youth". The "advice to youth" takes the best part of a page and implores others not to repeat his actions.

At the end of his Account Smith seemed delighted at the penitence shown by Kirk. Nonetheless, he warned his readers that his impunity in denying his crime in court was almost as bad as the crime itself. Despite this, he concluded, Kirk "had some Ground to Expect a happy Eternity, for he said that his Sin was so great that he deserved to Dye; and desired not to Live".

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About this Biography

Created by

Edward Duncan 

Further contributions by

Robert Shoemaker