Sarah Malcolm (c. 1710 – 7 March 1733), also known as Mallcombe, was a British woman who is chiefly remembered for having been sketched by William Hogarth two days before her execution for a triple murder.
Sarah was born to an Anglo–Irish family in County Durham in about 1710, but was brought up in Dublin. After the death of her mother Sarah moved to London, where she found work in domestic service, working as a laundress for residents above the Inns of the Court, near Temple Bar One of her employers was a wealthy 80-year-old widow named Lydia Duncomb, who lived with another old woman, Elizabeth Harrison, and their maid Ann Price, aged about 17.[a]Elizabeth Harrison had been Lydia’s maid until she became too infirm to carry out her duties, but Lydia had retained her nevertheless, and had hired Ann Price to take care of both of them. On 5 February 1733 the three women were found dead and their apartment burgled; Lydia and Elizabeth had been strangled, and Ann’s throat had been cut.
Suspicion fell on Sarah, who was examined by the magistrate Sir Richard Brocas. A search revealed 45 guineas hidden in her hair, and bundles of bloody clothes in her room. She confessed to her involvement in the burglary, and named Mary Tracy and James and Thomas Alexander as her partners in the crime, but denied any knowledge of the murders, claiming that she acted only as a lookout.
Sarah represented herself at her trial on 23 February 1733, and put up a “spirited defence”, in which she argued that the stains on her clothes were from her own menstrual blood. But the jury took only fifteen minutes to return a verdict of guilty, and she was sentenced to be hanged. No charges were laid against her alleged fellow gang members, owing to a lack of evidence.
Two days before her execution on 7 March 1733, Sarah was visited by William Hogarth, who made a sketch of her. Hogarth is subsequently claimed to have said that “I see by this woman’s features that she is capable of any wickedness”. Hogarth’s opinion seems to have been shared by the author and prison administrator Arthur GriffithsBritish military officer, prison administrator and author who published more than sixty books during his lifetime. He was also a military historian who wrote extensively about the wars of the 19th century. , who labelled Sarah a “female monster”. But Sarah went to her death continuing to deny her involvement in the murders.
Malcolm’s trial and execution reveal the continuing fascination with the idea of women and evil, though it is unlikely that she would have been remembered if Hogarth had not used her as a subject for one of his “low life” works.
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