Some of the inspirations in my research for Episode 1

November 2, 2009


I hope that you enjoyed the first episode of Garrow’s Law yesterday.  As they said in the opening sequence, the show is inspired by real cases from the time.  Below I mention a few of the things that helped play a role  in inspiring part of Sunday’s episode.

One of the themes of Episode 1 was Thieftakers.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, they were a bit like a cross between private detectives and policemen.   You may remember the exchange where Forrester the Thieftaker gets the better of Garrow?  Garrow asked him how long he had been in the honourable business of thieftaking, and Forrester comes back with the line ‘Longer than you’ve been a counsellor.’ And also the exchange “What, there was no blood money last Sessions? – If there were no thieves, how would you get a brief?”  Well, have a look at an actual exchange between Garrow and a Thieftaker in a case from 1785 where the Thieftaker gave as good, or better, than he got from Garrow!

The Thieftaker case in the Episode was about highway robbery.  There are loads of cases like this during our period.  A great place to go if you want to find out more is the website of the Old Bailey Proceedings Online.  If you are interested, go to and then select ‘Highway Robbery’ on the advanced search options.  I suggest looking at this case, with Garrow defending a Mr Pace accused of Highway Robbery. Garrow lost and Pace was sentenced to death.

Another case you might enjoy is this one, again a Highway Robbery case with Garrow unsuccessfully defending and the accused being sentenced to death.  Here, Garrow goes into a lot of detail about the identity of a grey mare that was used in robbery:|mare|garrow#highlight

Infanticide was the theme of the main case in Episode 1.  It was a special because in infanticide cases, the burden of proof was the opposite to what it was today. Whist on the one hand, if the woman was married and was prosecuted for killing a newborn child, the offence would be of murder and she would be presumed innocent.  However, if she was unmarried, like Elizabeth Jarvis in our episode, she would be presumed guilty, and the offence would be infanticide / concealing a birth.

A number of cases and played a part in helping to  inspire the case created for the show. Elizabeth Jarvis is the name of a woman accused of infanticide in 1800. She was found not guilty.

The cutting of the throat of a child happened in a number of cases during the 1700s.  If you would like to look at examples of cases where a cord was wrapped around the neck and the neck cut by mistake, I suggest looking at the following three infanticide cases. One ( ) refers to a cord around neck, throat cut by mistake with a knife; a second,  turned on the use of scissors and accidental cutting of neck; and third case was about a poor wretched woman cutting cord with rough knife.

There are references in the Old Bailey archive to the ‘ hydrostatic test’ being used in evidence in infanticide cases. We also took some inspiration from a practice that was used whereby doctors would remove the dead babies’ lungs and try to float them, if they floated, the child breathed, but if they sank it was stillborn. This idea of floating a child’s lungs to see whether it breathed dates back a long way and was first used in the Old Bailey as an argument as early as 1737 , and was used in court on several occasions subsequently. But by Garrow’s time, as he showed in his cross examination of the Doctor, medical authorities were beginning to move on.

Do you remember when Garrow was complaining about the thinness of his papers?  All of the restrictions that he faced – like not being allowed to address the jury – are true.  I’ll try to post some stuff about it this week if I get a chance.

If there are any other aspects that you’re interested in hearing more about, don’t hesitate to post a comment and I’ll do my best to help.

With best wishes

Mark Pallis