Thursday, May 9, 2019

The Tutbury Hoard, Part 2

Part of the Tutbury Hoard
The sudden acquisition of wealth can change people. When coins started to be found in. the River Dove in 1831—ultimately amounting to 360,000 medieval coins uncovered by scores of treasure seekers—some lucky people found themselves in possession of silver worth more than they'd ever held before.

John Blackburn was one such person. Rather than turn the coins in to the Crown for monetary reward, however, he cashed in only enough to buy a horse and trap, and a gun to protect the rest. He then returned to his farm with his wife, Jane. They started living off their own private stash now, neglecting the farm and letting their hired labor go. They avoided people, even their own sons, Thomas and Henry.

Then, in October of 1852, would-be rescuers rushing to the Blackburns' burning house found John and Jane murdered. For the Staffordshire police, suspicion fell on the sons, who might have wanted an inheritance. Evidence was lacking, however, until a scrawled anonymous letter, written by someone who knew unpublished details about the murder, implicated Henry Blackburn.

Henry would not have implicated himself, so the police made inquiries to find the scribe. They found Charles Moore, a former laborer on the Blackburn farm. He had talked several times about the treasure hidden away on his former employer's land, and had also mentioned being hired by Henry Blackburn to kill the old couple in return for a share of the silver. Four men were taken into custody: Charles Moore, Henry Blackburn, and two Irish associates of Moore, Edward Walsh and Peter Kirwan. A three-day trial included a witness who heard Moore discussing how to start a fire with resin and pitch. It was determined that Henry Blackburn's name in the letter was designed to throw suspicion off the real culprit, Moore. Kirwan and Blackburn were declared innocent. Walsh was declared a conspirator, and sentenced to transportation for life (being sent out of the country, likely to Australia).

Moore went to the gallows, proof that (in the words of Chaucer's pardoner, Radix malorum est cupiditas. [Latin: "The root of evil is love of money"]

The Blackburns' silver hoard was never found.

Tomorrow I'll talk about the largest Anglo-Saxon find in modern history, which also happened to end a friendship.

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