Elizabeth Williams

Today I want to bring you the story of Elizabeth Williams, a real-life female Fagin, whose escapades could easily have come from the pages of a novel by Charles Dickens.

The story of her foul deeds appeared in The Warrington Guardian on Saturday he 23rd of April 1859:-


At the Middlesex Sessions, on Monday, Elizabeth Williams, 41, and Sarah Burns, 14, were brought up before Mr. Pashley for judgment.

These prisoners were tried, on Saturday, for stealing a seal-cloth jacket, value £1 5s., the property of Richard Plant the elder, from the person of Richard Plant the younger, and for stealing a pair of coral earrings, value five shillings, the property of Henry James Young, from the person of Mary Ann Young.

The younger prisoner pleaded “Guilty.”


It appeared that the elder prisoner had been carrying on a wholesale system of plundering children in the streets, and enticing other children to aid her in her infamous proceedings.

The younger prisoner was the daughter of poor but honest and hardworking parents, and she had been seduced from her home by Williams, who regularly sent her into the streets to rob children, she being close by ready to receive and make away with the plunder.

Information of several of these robberies having been given to the police, with a description of the girl, Burns was taken into custody, and she then said that all she had done was by the direction of Mrs. Williams, in whose possession, when she was taken, the policeman found duplicates relating to property which had been stolen from children in the way stated.


There were a great number of charges which could have been proved against them, but two were selected on which to commit them for trial.

The children of Mr. Plant, tailor, Great Pulteney Street, Golden-square, were playing in the street, when they were robbed of the tunics they were wearing.

These were pawned by Williams, and the ticket was found upon her.


The daughter of Mr. Clark, a fishmonger, in Greek Street, Soho, a child of about five years of age, was playing in the street when Burns stole her hat and a pair of coral earrings which she had in her ears.

When she was taken, Burns told where she and Williams had sold the earrings at, a miscellaneous shop in King-street, Drury-lane.

Williams represented to the shopkeeper that the other prisoner was her daughter, and that through want of food she had been constrained to take the rings out of her ears, to raise the means of buying a bit of bread.


Williams, in her defence, asserted that she knew nothing of the robberies, and did not pawn the things.

The pawnbroker’s shopman positively identified her, and said that he gave her the ticket.

After standing out for some time she made the awkward admission that it was not the witness, but a taller person, who took the things in pledge. (Laughter.)

The jury found her Guilty.


The constable then stated that there were at least fifty cases.

In some, children had had their earrings torn out of their ears, through the flesh, and Williams had instigated girls to commit these robberies for her benefit.


A decent-looking woman got into the box, and in a very intelligent manner, made a statement to the following effect, which was very attentively listened to:-

“The, prisoner, Burns is my daughter, and is not yet fourteen. My husband, with whom I am now living in Euston road, went out to the Crimea, where he was two years and was wounded, and when he went I had a baby six weeks old.

That girl (the prisoner) was all my stay and support – not support exactly, but I mean that when I was out at work – and I had to work hard early and late to support my children she took care of the place and tended the baby.


She was as good a child as ever could be, and had no bad companions and no bad examples, until by some extraordinary means that woman there (Williams) got her under her influence.

On the 8th of March, she stole her from me – decoyed her off.

That night, I  was up till very late, distractedly waiting for her, but she did not come home, and I inquired for her at the prisons, the police stations, and everywhere I could think of.

The first I heard of her was a letter, saying that she was in the House of Detention on this case.


In August last year, she was committed for three months for a similar thing done under the tuition of that base woman.

She got her from her home, by telling her that she could keep her better and clothe her better than I could, and unfortunately she was over-persuaded, and has been led into this crime.

She has stripped my child of good clothes which I had put on her back, and a good pair of leather boots, and has dressed her up in rubbish.

I hope my girl will not punished, and that her father and myself will do all we possibly can to reclaim her, and she will be a good girl yet, I am sure.”

Prisoner Burns:- “Oh, mother! do take me home, and I’ll never do it anymore.


The Assistant Judge asked the mother what she thought about the girl being sent to a reformatory school.

The mother said she thought it would be the best thing in the end, probably, but she did not wish to press for that against the girl’s wish.

If she were sent home, all that a mother could do should be done.

Several jurors said the girl’s future career would, no doubt, be a right one if she were now sent to a reformatory. The mother should not regard her own feelings in the matter, but should look to the girl’s future welfare.


The Assistant Judge told Mrs. Bums that the best sentence that could be rendered to her and to her daughter would be to pass a sentence which would have the effect of sending her to a reformatory, where she would be well trained and educated.

It would be near to or in London, so that she could without difficulty or expense see her occasionally.

Mrs. Burns said that she could only leave the matter in his lordship’s hands, and express her thanks for the kind consideration he had given to it.


Williams, who throughout the case had been clasping her hands and looking up imploringly, as though she were the most ill-used being in the world, began to cry, or pretended to do so, and asked for mercy on account of her child.

The Assistant Judge:- “An appeal for mercy on account of her child comes in a very ill manner from a woman who, instead of showing mercy to another woman’s child, has seduced and decoyed her away from her home and used he for her own base and infamous purposes.

Such a term as mercy ought scarcely to be used in reference to a person so utterly wicked and debased you are, but I will consider by Monday what ought to be done. You are liable to a long term of penal servitude, and you may depend upon it that, not only as punishment for what you have done, but as a warning to others, to deter them from similar conduct, you will have to undergo at least some years of that punishment.”


On the prisoners being placed at the bar this morning, Williams again pleaded for mercy on account of her child.

The Assistant Judge said that he had well considered the case, and would repeat that he was surprised that the prisoner should so audaciously ask for mercy on account of her child after she had kidnapped another woman’s child to train up as a thief, and as the instrument of her base purposes.


The sentence open to her was that she be kept in penal servitude for three years; and with respect to the girl, notwithstanding the desire of the mother, in her natural affection for her child, to have her at home under her own eye, the best thing that the Court could do would be to send her to a reformatory, where it was hoped she would soon forfeit the evil courses into which that iniquitous woman had led her.

The sentence, therefore, upon her was two months’ imprisonment in Westminster Bridewell, and that she be kept in a reformatory school for three ears.


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