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John Hatfield

John Hatfield—the Sham Honourable Alexander Hope

In the latter half of last century a farmer in one of the northern counties had in his house a very pretty girl, who passed as his daughter, and who supposed that he was her father. The damsel was industrious and virtuous as well as beautiful, and as she grew to maturity had many applicants for her hand. At last, as it became apparent that she would not long remain disengaged or single, her reputed father explained to her that she was not his daughter, but was an illegitimate child of Lord Robert Manners, who had all along paid for her support, and who was disposed to grant her a wedding portion of £1000, provided she married with his sanction. The news soon spread, and the rustic beauty became a greater toast than ever when it was known that she was also an heiress. Among others who heard of her sudden accession to fortune was a young fellow called John Hatfield, then employed as a traveller by a neighbouring linen-draper. He lost no time in paying his respects at the farm-house, or in enrolling himself in the number of her suitors, and succeeded so well that he not only gained the affections of the girl, but also the goodwill of the farmer, who wrote to Lord Robert Manners, informing him that Hatfield held a good position and had considerable expectations, and that he was anxious to marry his daughter, but would only do so on condition that her relatives approved of the union. Thereupon his lordship sent for the lover, and, believing his representations to be true, gave his consent at the first interview, and on the day after the marriage presented the bridegroom with £1500.

The fellow was in reality a great scamp. A short time after he got the money he set out for London, purchased a carriage, frequented the most famous coffee-houses, and represented himself to be a near relation of the Rutland family, and the possessor of large estates in Yorkshire. The marriage portion was soon exhausted, and when he had borrowed from every person who would lend him money he disappeared from the fashionable world as abruptly as he had entered it. Little was heard of his movements for several years, when he suddenly turned up again as boastful, if not as resplendent, as ever. By this time his wife had borne three daughters to him; but he regarded both her and them as hateful encumbrances, and deserted them, leaving them to be supported by the precarious charity of her relations. The poor woman did not long survive his ill-usage and neglect, and died in 1782. Hatfield himself found great difficulty in raising money, and was, at last, thrown into the King's Bench prison for a debt of £160. Here he was very miserable, and was in such absolute destitution that he excited the pity of some of his former associates and victims who had retained sufficient to pay their jail expenses, and they often invited him to dinner and supplied him with food. He never lost his assurance; and, although he was perfectly well aware that his real character was known, still continued to boast of his kennels, of his Yorkshire park, and of his estate in Rutlandshire, which he asserted was settled upon his wife; and usually wound up his complaint by observing how annoying it was that a gentleman who at that very time had thirty men engaged in beautifying his Yorkshire property should be locked up in a filthy jail, by a miserable tradesman, for a paltry debt.

Among others to whom he told this cock-and-bull story was a clergyman who came to the prison to visit Valentine Morris, the ex-governor of St. Vincent, who was then one of the inmates; and he succeeded in persuading the unsuspecting divine to visit the Duke of Rutland, and lay his case before him as that of a near relative. Of course the duke repudiated all connection with him, and all recollection of him; but a day or two later, when he remembered that he was the man who had married the natural daughter of Lord Robert Manners, he sent £200 and had him released.

Such a benefactor was not to be lost sight of. The duke was appointed Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland in 1784, and had scarcely landed in Dublin when Hatfield followed him to that city. On his arrival he engaged a splendid suite of apartments in a first-rate hotel, fared sumptuously, and represented himself as nearly allied to the viceroy; but said that he could not appear at the castle until his horses, carriages, and servants arrived from England. The Yorkshire park, the Rutlandshire estate, and the thirty industrious labourers were all impressed into his service once more, and the landlord allowed him to have what he liked. When the suspicions of Boniface were aroused by the non-arrival of the equipages and attendants he presented his bill. Hatfield assured him that his money was perfectly safe, and that luckily his agent, who collected the rents of his estate in the north of England, was then in Ireland, and would give him all needful information. The landlord called upon this gentleman, whose name had been given to him, and presented his account, but of course without success; and Hatfield was thrown in the Marshalsea jail by the indignant landlord. By this time he was thoroughly familiar with the mysteries of prison life as it then existed, and had scarcely seated himself in his new lodging when he visited the jailer's wife and informed her of the relationship in which he stood to the lord-lieutenant. The woman believed him, gave him the best accommodation she could, and allowed him to sit at her table for three weeks. During this time he sent another petition to the new viceroy, who, fearing lest his own reputation should suffer, released him, and was only too glad to ship him off to Holyhead.

He next showed himself at Scarborough in 1792, and succeeded in introducing himself to some of the local gentry, to whom he hinted that at the next general election he would be made one of the representatives of the town through the influence of the Duke of Rutland. His inability to pay his hotel bill, however, led to his exposure, and he was obliged to flee to London, where he was again arrested for debt. This time the wheel of Fortune turned but slowly in his favour. He lingered in jail for eight years and a-half, when a Miss Nation, of Devonshire, to whom he had become known, paid his debts, took him from prison, and married him.

Abandoning his Rutlandshire pretensions, he now devoted himself to business, and persuaded a Devonshire firm, who knew nothing of his antecedents, to take him into partnership, and also ingratiated himself with a clergyman, who accepted his drafts for a large amount. Thus supplied with ready money he returned to London, where he lived in splendid style, and even went so far as to aspire to a seat in the House of Commons. For a time all appeared to go well; but suspicions gradually arose with regard to his character and his resources, and he was declared a bankrupt. Deserting his wife and her two children, he fled from his creditors. For some time nothing was heard of him, but in July 1802 he arrived in Keswick, in a carriage, but without any servant, and assumed the name of the Honourable Alexander Augustus Hope, brother of the Earl of Hopetoun, and member of Parliament for Linlithgow.

In his wanderings he became acquainted with an old couple called Robinson, who kept a little hostelry on the shore of the Lake of Buttermere, and who had one daughter who was locally known as "The Beauty of Buttermere." The handsome colonel at once began to lay siege to this girl's heart, and was the less loth to do so because it was rumoured that old Robinson had saved a considerable sum during a long lifetime. But with his usual prudence, he thought it well to have two strings to his bow, and finding that there was an Irish officer in Keswick who had a ward of good family and fortune, and of great personal attractions, he procured an introduction as the Honourable Colonel Hope of the 14th regiment of foot. He failed with the ward, but he was more successful with the Irishman's daughter. Her consent was given, the trousseau was ordered, and the wedding-day was fixed. But the lady would not agree to a secret ceremony, and insisted that he should announce his intended nuptials both to her own and his friends. This he agreed to do, and pretended to write letters apprising his brother, and even proposed a visit to Lord Hopetoun's seat. The bride's suspicions were, however, roused by the strange air of concealment and mystery which surrounded her intended husband; the desired answers to his letters came not, and she refused to resign either herself or her fortune into his keeping.

Thus baffled, he devoted all his attention to pretty Mary Robinson, and found her less reluctant to unite her lot with that of such a distinguished individual as Colonel Hope. The inquiries this time were all on the gallant officer's side, and it was only when he found that the reports as to old Robinson's wealth were well founded that he led her to the altar of Lorton church, on the 2d of October 1802.

On the day before the wedding the soi-disant  Colonel Hope wrote to a gentleman of his acquaintance, informing him that he was under the necessity of being absent for ten days on a journey into Scotland, and enclosing a draft for thirty pounds, drawn on a Mr. Crumpt of Liverpool, which he desired him to cash and pay some small debts in Keswick with it, and send him over the balance, as he was afraid he might be short of money on the road. This was done; and the gentleman sent him at the same time an additional ten pounds, lest unexpected demands should be made upon his purse in his absence.

The Keswick folks were naturally astonished when they learned two days later that the colonel, who had been paying his addresses to the daughter of the Irish officer, had married "The Beauty of Buttermere," and the confiding friend who had sent him the money at once despatched the draft to Liverpool. Mr. Crumpt immediately accepted it, believing that it came from the real Colonel Hope, whom he knew very well. Meantime, instead of paying his proposed journey to Scotland Hatfield stopped at Longtown, where he received two letters, by which he seemed much disturbed, and returned after three days' absence to Buttermere. Some friends of the real colonel, chancing to hear of his marriage, paused on their way through Cumberland, at Keswick, and wrote to their supposed acquaintance, asking him to come and visit them. Hatfield went in a carriage and four, and had an interview with the gentlemen, but flatly denied that he had ever assumed Colonel Hope's name. He said his name was Hope, but that he was not the member for Linlithgow. It was notorious, however, that he had been in the habit of franking his letters with Colonel Hope's name, and he was handed over to a constable. He contrived to escape, and fled first to Chester and subsequently to Swansea, where he was recaptured.

He was brought to trial at the Cumberland assizes on the 15th of August 1803, charged with personation and forgery, and was found guilty and sentenced to death. He was executed at Carlisle on the 3d of September 1803.