After William Hogarth
Sarah Malcolm Aetat XXII No Recompence but Love
(London, c. 1732)
Trimmed on platemark
A rare, early, pirated copy of Hogarth’s half length portrait of the notorious murderess Sarah Malcolm, executed on March 7th 1733 for the murders of her former employer Lydia Duncomb, Mrs Duncomb’s companion Elizabeth Harrison and their seventeen year old maid Ann Price. This copy has the addition of Thornhill standing behind Sarah Malcolm, with a view of the gallows to the side of her. Sarah Malcolm had been employed as their charwoman. It also seemed that she had been involved in another murder four years previously for which an innocent man had been hanged after a bloody razor had been found in his possession, the jury had refused to believe that he had leant it to Malcolm as he claimed. The Duncomb murders had attracted particular attention because the brutality and recklessness of Sarah’s crime seemed at odds with her youth and good looks. Lydia Duncomb aged eighty and Elizabeth Harrison aged sixty were found strangled in their beds and Ann Price’s throat had been cut, at their apartment in Mitre Court, Fleet St. Their considerable savings and silver was missing. A Mr. Kerrel who had chambers on the same staircase, found a bundle of bloody linen (Sarah later claimed it was her menstrual blood) and a silver tankard concealed under his bed (presumably placed there to incriminate him), and immediately raised the alarm. Malcolm was arrested after Kerrel and two watchmen found her in the street with £53. 11s. 6d. concealed in her hair and other objets de vertu identified as belonging to Mrs Duncomb hidden about her person. Although she tried unsuccessfully to incriminate three other associates, she alone was convicted of the murder. Two days before her death Sarah was visited in prison by Hogarth and his father in law Sir James Thornhill so that Hogarth could paint her portrait. It is a remarkable image; the sour, thin lipped face above the powerful frame: ‘A Lady Macbeth in low-life’ as she was called by John Ireland. Sarah, unrepentant to the end, was hung in Fleet Street opposite the scene of her crime, her body dissected by the surgeons and her skeleton subsequently exhibited in a glass case by the Botanic Society of Cambridge.