Thomas Babb (1791-1859) – Charged with Having Committed an Unnatural Crime

We pick up this scandal in 1818 in the town of Teignmouth. Before we begin, I should note that at that time this crime was punishable by death.

I would like to tell you it made headlines in the The Exeter Flying Post or Trewman’s Plymouth and Cornish Advertiser but given the list of trials it doesn’t seem to have floated above any of the others. Still, I’m sure it raised more than a few eyebrows as the story played out.

Assizes were a civil and criminal court of that time.

12 Mar 1818

Our story starts with one Benjamin Parish who has confessed to committing an unnatural crime. Further he swears and oath and accuses 3 others, James Martin, George Murch and Thomas Babb (1791-1859) as his partners in the crime. All such charges were heard about once a quarter in Exeter, which is the seat of the County’s Government.

The charge of an “Unnatural Crime” referred to Sodomy. Sadly 204 years later some still believe that love can be a crime. I’m sad for them with no love in their life.

Our next touchpoint on the case comes after the Grand Jury decisions on 26 Mar, two weeks after their arrest.

26 Mar 1818

There appears to be no record of who Langley and Neck were, why they weren’t initially charged and how they later got included in the alleged free for all. Everyone involved was acquitted and there is no mention of Benjamin’s conviction or a cross charge of perjury.

Now for more about the Co-defendants:

I did a little digging to find out more about the players in this case as I needed it to help pinpoint the proper Thomas Babb who was accused.

James Martin

In response to the acquittal Joseph Parish, the brother of Benjamin Parish (the accuser) took out this scathing Advertisement seeking to influence public opinion and trying to draw out James Martin. I believe Joseph is mostly upset at the £100 judgement against him for damages. That is a hefty amount in 1818. In today’s money it is £8,787 ($10,620 USD).

Joseph mentions a witness of his who had previously accused James of the same crime in Wiltshire. Sadly, I find no record of that incident.

This Advertisement ran twice on 02 & 09 Apr 1818

The add doesn’t seem to have received a response from James Martin, but I wanted to know more.

So, I kept digging and found that James Martin was christened in 1772 in East Teignmouth. He was the son of John & Prudence Martin. This would have made him 46 at the time of the 1818 event.

Looking at his life before the trial, we see the first print media mention of him in 1813. During the trial he was listed as a Baker in Teignmouth. Here he is listed as a confectioner.

By 1816 he also owns “The Public Rooms” in East Teignmouth.

Well after the trials, James seems to have continued making his way hosting Balls in his “Public Rooms” establishment. He is shown here in 1834. The newspapers are littered with references similar Balls he threw throughout the years. There are some mentions later in his life of him appearing as a character witness for someone else who was on trial. So, the damage of the accusations didn’t destroy his livelihood.

Benjamin & Joseph Parish

In 1834 we see that

I easily found Benjamin and Joseph Parish, which was easy as I had two names and a location to search from. Joseph is the older of the two and was born in 1781, with Benjamin trailing along in 1790. This would have made them 37 and 28 years old respectively.

Joseph was already a father of 6 at this time and eventually had a total of 8 children with Mary Ann Westcott. There are no other records of Benjamin Parish that I’m able to locate.

George Murch

George Murch appears to be the son of Richard & Catherine (Morey) Murch, having been born in 1788. This would place him at 30 years old. This is similar to the ages of all the others involved except for the purported ringleader James Martin. No more information about him is readily available. There is another George Murch, Baker, who would be way too old to have participated in shenanigans.

Finding the Real Thomas Babb

Taking the various dates of birth of the group we see 1772, 1790 and 1788. Additionally, the brother Joseph Parish was born in 1781. This gives us an approximate age of Thomas. This fits perfectly with our Thomas who was born in 1791. Thomas is the son of George Babb who is the Progenitor of the line we refer to as Devon Pedigree (Teignmouth 1830) 10. It was previously known as Devon Pedigree 10. Thomas did marry Judith Hearder in 1845, but no record of children has been found. So, it’s a very short pedigree.

I believe they were likely all running buddies at one time. Something happened to make the relationship go south, which led Benjamin Parish to level the charges that eventually wasn’t supported by the evidence. The Grand Jury summarily threw the case out and even refused to issue a misdemeanor charge against them.

It’s very possible that Benjamin was telling the truth and the others banded together to make him look foolish in front of the Grand Jury. This left his brother as Benjamin’s sole supporter. From this point the trail goes cold and that is where I must end the tale.

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