Charles Collard: Have-a-go hero

by Bob Davenport

At about 8.30 on the night of Friday 8 December 1854, Charlotte Bennett, a household servant working for a Mr George Moore at 73 Warren Street, London, opened the front door to two unexpected callers. One of them was a veiled woman, whose features Bennett could not make out; the other was a man whom she knew as someone who had previously come to repair equipment used in her employer’s soda-water business. His name was Emanuel Barthélemy.

Barthélemy was born in Sceaux, near Paris, in 1820. In 1839 he was imprisoned for shooting a police officer during an attempted republican coup against the French monarchy. He was released during a general amnesty in 1847, but in 1848 was imprisoned for his part in the French workers’ uprising in June that year. In the summer of 1850 he managed to escape to London, where he opened a fencing and pistol-shooting salon in Rathbone Place, at which Karl Marx, who had arrived in London in 1849, became one of his clients. A shared interest in revolutionary politics made Barthélemy a frequent visitor to Marx’s house, though according to Marx’s friend Wilhelm Liebknecht ‘Mrs. Marx did not like him – he was uncanny to her, his piercing eyes were repulsive to her.’

In September 1850, at a rowdy Communist League committee meeting, Marx was challenged to a duel by August Willich, who regarded him as a reactionary. Marx refused to give Willich satisfaction, but his lieutenant Conrad Schramm took up the challenge, and when Schramm and Willich left for Antwerp – duelling being illegal in Britain – Barthélemy went along as Willich’s second. And it was he who, back in London on the day after the duel, called at Marx’s house and announced that Schramm had a bullet in his head – though a day later Schramm himself turned up, having just ‘received a glancing shot which had stunned him’.

Two years later, at Englefield Green in Surrey in October 1852, Barthélemy shot dead a fellow Frenchman in the last fatal duel in England, following differences over republican politics. He was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to two months in jail, having already been in prison for over five months while awaiting trial.

 
On that night in December 1854, Bennett showed the two visitors into the back parlour – where Moore evidently received them as friends: three tumblers were later found on the table – and then went upstairs. Details of what happened next differ slightly in contemporary accounts, but it seems that after about 10–20 minutes Bennett heard a scuffling noise from below and came back downstairs, when she saw Moore pushing Barthélemy towards the front door. She was just opening the door and was aware of the two men struggling together when she saw Barthélemy put a pistol to Moore’s head and fire it, at which she ran out into the street. Barthélemy came out too, but seeing other people in the street he went back inside and bolted the door.

Among the bystanders was Charles Collard, who had a greengrocer’s shop next door. Collard, the son of a butcher, was 36 years old and had served as a soldier with the East India Company, but by the time he married Sarah Tourell in October 1850 he was a police constable. He spent only two or three years in the police force, but was so popular with his colleagues that when he left to set up business as a greengrocer he was appointed to supply several police stations with vegetables.

Bennett told Collard that she thought her employer had been shot. Collard ran round to the back of the house, in New Road (now Euston Road), where he saw Barthélemy climbing over the back fence and, with another passer-by, grabbed hold of him. Then Barthélemy’s pistol went off and Collard fell wounded to the ground. Barthélemy struck the other man under the ear with the pistol and ran off to the west, until someone else who had seen what happened caught hold of him and resisted efforts to beat him off until others joined him and overpowered the fugitive until police arrived and took him away. Barthélemy was found to have been carrying a pair of pistols, 24 cartridges, some percussion caps, a dagger with a 9-inch blade, 8½d. in money, 2 door keys, 3 cigars and a corkscrew.

The police also entered Moore’s house – let in by the occupant of no. 72, who climbed over the wall between their rear gardens – and found Moore dead by the front door. In the back parlour there were a broken chair and marks of blood on the wall and floor. On the body there were signs of a blow to the head as well as a pistol shot, but a surgeon later found a bullet in Moore’s brain and declared that this must have caused instantaneous death.

Collard, meanwhile, had been taken to the nearby University College Hospital, where he was found to have been shot in the belly, with the ball travelling through his body to within a quarter of an inch of his back. The ball was removed, but the wound was judged to be fatal, and Collard was told this.

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University College Hospital – the former North London Hospital (Wellcome Library, London)

 

Later that night a police inspector visited him and took down a statement of what had happened. The next day Barthélemy was taken to Collard’s bedside and identified as the man with the pistol. ‘Oh, you cruel man,’ said Collard, to which there was no reply. The statement made the previous night was read out with the addition of the identification:

I, Charles Collard, of No. 74, Warren-street, say that about a quarter to 9 o’clock p.m., this day, I heard the report of a pistol and a cry of ‘Murder’ in No. 73, Warren-street. I went there, and found a man attempting to escape. I prevented him. He then re-entered the house, and fastened the door in Warren-street, and got out at the back. I ran into the New-road, and caught hold of him as he was getting over the garden wall, when he pulled a pistol from his pocket, and shot me through, and I fell. The man ran away. Another man was standing near me at the time, who tried to hold him, but he got away. The man I now see is the man who shot me. I am certain of that. I have made this statement believing that I am dying.
Charles Collard, his mark.

Collard died later that day, about 24 hours after being admitted to the hospital.

On 4 January 1855 Barthélemy was tried for Collard’s murder – not for that of Moore – and was found guilty. Despite the jury’s plea for clemency – the defence counsel had argued that the killings amounted to manslaughter rather than murder – he was hanged in front of a crowd estimated at 8,000–10,000 in bad weather outside Newgate Prison on the 22nd. At his request, as the sentence was carried out he held in his hand a letter delivered to him a day or two earlier, which turned out to be written in French, signed ‘Sophie’ or ‘Jeannette’ (accounts differ), sent from Poitiers, and urging him to repent – though the press made much of his insistence that he had no religious faith. He was buried within the jail.

Barthelemy front and side

The death mask of Emanuel Barthélemy, from The Zoist, vol. 13 (April 1855 to January 1856)

 

No explanation of Barthélemy’s quarrel with Moore was offered at the trial, but after the execution his solicitor reported part of a conversation in which Barthélemy claimed he was returning from an abortive visit to a shooting gallery which he had found closed when he had met his female companion – who disappeared at the time of the murders and was never traced, but who presumably was previously known to him. He had then accompanied her to Moore’s house at her request. Moore supposedly became aggressive when she read him a letter, in French, which he tried to snatch from her, and struck out with a weighted cane when Barthélemy tried to intervene. The gun had been fired when Moore continued to strike out as Barthélemy and his companion tried to leave. The Newgate chaplain was reported as saying that Barthélemy had said that the woman was an illegitimate child – the daughter of a Catholic priest according to one report – who used to receive money from Moore and who had gone to see him to collect arrears, which Moore had refused to pay, and that Barthélemy admitted that he had struck Moore with a weighted cane that had been lying on Moore’s table.

In his memoirs of his friend Marx, first published in 1896, Wilhelm Liebknecht claimed that Barthélemy had been en route to Paris (with a ‘lady friend’) to kill Emperor Napoleon III with deer shot steeped in sulphur when he remembered that Moore owed him money and an altercation ensued when he tried to claim it – though reports at the time of Barthélemy’s arrest claimed that he had been planning to travel to Hamburg on the day after the murders.

Later still, in his 1921 book Remarkable Rogues, Charles Kingston O’Mahony (writing as Charles Kingston) claimed that Barthélemy had said that he and his companion had gone to Warren Street with the intention of getting Moore to recognise the girl as his daughter and bestow an allowance on her before her marriage to the Frenchman. But no reference is provided for this, and a number of details in the author’s account differ from those in contemporary reports – not least that Moore was killed by the weighted cane, with no mention of a pistol shot.

Meanwhile, on 15 December 1854, Collard had been buried in St Pancras Cemetery. Some 400–500 people followed his coffin there, and the undertaker said he ‘never saw so much sympathy manifested on any previous occasion’. In January the St Pancras vestry voted to waive the fees for erecting a monument over his grave (with some reservations about the legality of the vestry as trustees giving away ‘the people’s property’). An appeal for support of his widow and two children raised some £700 or £800 (equivalent to about £68,000–£78,000 today), and in July there was erected on his grave a monument designed by Thomas Milnes, whose previous commissions had included a statue of Nelson in Norwich and one of the Duke of Wellington now in the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich. It was reported that ‘the stone of which it is composed is of great durability, closely resembling marble, and the monument bears an appropriate inscription, referring to the horrible event by which the deceased met his death, but without perpetuating the name of the perpetrator’; now, however, over 160 years on, the wording is illegible.

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Collard’s grave in St Pancras Cemetery. ‘The design and execution of the monument, which had been entrusted to Mr. Thomas Milnes, of Judd-place East, Euston-square, is of a classical character, standing in the centre of a Yorkshire landing … Next to the landing is a noble plinth and sub-plinth, with neat mouldings supporting the pedestal, which tapers lightly towards the capital, but surrounded with foliage and scroll work, presenting a chaste appearance’ – The Observer, 16 July 1855 

SOURCES

• Richard Cohen, By the Sword: A History of Gladiators, Musketeers, Samurai, Swashbucklers, and Olympic Champions (London: Random House, 2002)
• ‘Emanuel Barthélemy’, Old Bailey Proceedings Online
• ‘Emanuel Barthélemy’, Wikipedia
Evening Standard, 11 December 1854 (‘Horrible Murder in Warren-street, Fitzroy-square’), 16 July 1855 (‘The Late Murder in Warren-street’)
• Charles Kingston (pseudonym of Charles Kingston O’Mahony), Remarkable Rogues: The Careers of Some Notable Criminals of Europe and America (London and New York: John Lane, 1921)
• Wilhelm Liebknecht, Karl Marx: Biographical Memoirs (1896), trans. Ernest Untermann (Chicago: Charles H. Kerr & Co., 1901)
Manchester Guardian, 24 January 1855 (’Execution of the Murderer Barthélemy in London’)
The Observer, 10 December 1854 (’Horrible Murder in Warren-street, Fitzroy-square’, ’The Double Murder’), 17 December 1854 (‘The Double Murder in Warren-street, Fitzroy-square’, ‘The Double Murder’, ’The Double Murder in Warren-street, Fitzroy-square: The Inquest Resumed’), 24 December 1854 (‘The Double Murder in Warren-street’), 31 December 1854 (‘Central Criminal Court’), 7 January 1855 (‘St. Pancras Vestry: The Late Double Murder in Warren-street’, ’Central Criminal Court … The Murders in Warren-street’, ’The Double Murderer Barthélemy’), 14 January 1855 (‘Monument to the Late Charles Collard’), 21 January 1855 (’The Murderer Barthélemy’, ‘Execution of Barthélemy Tomorrow (Monday)’), 28 January 1855 (‘Execution of Emanuel Barthélemy’, ‘Alleged Confession of Barthélemy’), 16 July 1855 (‘The Late Murder in Warren-street’)
• James Straton and John Elliotson, ‘The Correspondence Between the Characters and Heads of the Two Murderers Lately Executed at Newgate’, The Zoist: A Journal of Cerebral Physiology and Mesmerism and Their Application to Human Welfare, vol. 13 (April 1855 to January 1856), pp. 202ff.
The Times, 9 December 1854 (’Horrible Murder in Warren-street, Fitzroy-square’, ‘The Double Murder’), 11 December 1854 (’The Murder in Warren-street’), 12 December 1854 (’The Double Murder in Warren-street, Fitzroy-square’), 5 January 1855 (’Central Criminal Court … The Murders in Warren-street’), 22 January 1855 (’The Murderer Barthélemy’), 23 January 1855 (‘Execution of the Murderer Barthélemy’)
• John Van der Kiste, Surrey Murders (Stroud: History Press, 2012)
• Francis Wheen, Karl Marx (London: Fourth Estate, 1999)

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