Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Hackman, James

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742492Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 23 — Hackman, James1890George Fisher Russell Barker

HACKMAN, JAMES (1752–1779), murderer, the son of Lieutenant William Hackman and Mary his wife, was baptised in Holy Trinity Church, Gosport, on 13 Dec. 1752, and at an early age was apprenticed to a mercer of that town. Taking a dislike to trade he persuaded his parents to buy him a commission, and at the age of nineteen entered the army, being gazetted an ensign in the 68th regiment of foot on 20 May 1772. While with a recruiting party at Huntingdon he was invited to Lord Sandwich's house at Hinchinbroke, and there he met and fell in love with Martha Ray, the daughter of a stay-maker in Holywell Street, London. When about eighteen years of age she became the mistress of John Montagu, fourth earl of Sandwich, by whom she had several children, one of them being Basil Montagu [q. v.] According to a contemporary authority, 'her person was uncommonly elegant, and her voice musical in a high degree.' She was a favourite pupil of Giardini, and several attempts had been made to induce her to sing on the stage. Hackman was promoted to the rank of lieutenant on 10 July 1776, but left the army at the end of that year in order to prepare for the church. Having been ordained deacon on 24 Feb. 1779, and priest on the 28th of the same month at Park Street Chapel, Grosvenor Square, he was presented by Hyde Mathis of Chichester to the living of Wiveton in Norfolk, to which he was instituted by Bishop Yonge at Norwich on 1 March 1779. During these years Hackman still continued his attentions to Miss Ray, in spite of her refusal of his offer of marriage. At length, in a fit of jealous despair, he shot her through the head with a pistol, while she was quitting Covent Garden Theatre, after the performance of 'Love in a Village,' on 7 April 1779. She fell dead instantly, and Hackman, with another pistol, endeavoured to kill himself. He fell wounded to the ground, and vainly tried to dash out his brains with the butt-ends of the pistols. On the following day Hackman was committed by Sir John Fielding to Tothill Fields Bridewell, and a verdict of wilful murder against him was brought in by the coroner's jury, after sitting several hours.' On 14 April the remains of Miss Ray (whose age, according to her coffin-plate, was thirty-four) were buried in the chancel of Elstree Church (Cussans, Hertfordshire, 'Hundred of Cashio,' p. 84). On the 16th Hackman was tried at the Old Bailey before Mr. Justice Blackstone and found guilty. In his defence Hackman declared that, though he had determined to kill himself, the murder of Miss Ray was unpremeditated. On Hackman asking Lord Sandwich's pardon, Sandwich sent him word that as he 'look'd upon his horrid action as an act of frenzy, he forgave it, that he received the stroke as coming from Providence which he ought to submit to, but that he had robb'd him of all comfort in this world' (Autobiog. of Mrs. Delaney, 2nd ser. ii. 423-424). On the 19th he was hanged at Tyburn. Boswell attended the trial, and appears to have ridden to Tyburn with Hackman in the mourning coach (Boswell, Johnson, ed. G. B. Hill, iii. 383-4). According to some authorities Hackman was a member of St. John's College, Cambridge, but his name is not to be found either in the admission register of the college or in the matriculation books of the university. From the Wiveton registers it would appear that Hackman probably never officiated there. The question whether the fact of Hackman having two pistols in his possession at the time of the murder was a proof that he meant to shoot two persons formed the subject of a violent altercation between Johnson and Beauclerk (ib. pp. 384-385). Sir Herbert Croft, in 1780, published a number of fictitious letters purporting to have been written by Hackman and Miss Ray, under the title of 'Love and Madness—a story too true ; in a Series of Letters between parties whose names would perhaps be mentioned were they less known or less lamented' (anon., London, 12mo). A portrait of Miss Ray, by Gainsborough, is preserved at Hinchinbroke House, and several engravings of Hackman are referred to in the 'Catalogues' of Bromley and Evans.

[Sessions Papers, lv. 207-10; Case and Memoirs of the Late Rev. James Hackman, 6th edit. 1779 ; Case and Memoirs of Miss Martha Ray, 1779 (?); Burke's Celebrated Trials connected with the Aristocracy, 1849, pp. 393-426; Celebrated Trials, &c., 1825, v. 1-43 ; Walpole's Letters, ed. Cunningham, vii. 190-1, 194, 338-9 ; Jesse's George III, ii. 240-1; Jesse's George Selwyn and his Contemporaries, 1844, iv. 59-68, 78-86 ; Morning Chronicle for 9, 17, 20 April 1779; Morning Post for same dates; Army Lists, 1773-7 ; Gent. Mag. 1779, xlix. 210, 212, 213 ; Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. iv. 186, 232-3 4th ser. iii. 339, 447, 488-9, 514, iv. 147, viii. 369, 7th ser. vi. 87, 212, vii. 172, 296, 392 ; information from Dr. Luard, Dr. Bensly, and the Rev. H. N. D'Almaine.]

G. F. R. B.