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Jack London and the 1902 Cavilla family murders

Located amidst the bosky acreage of Brockley cemetery in an unmarked grave lies the last resting place of five members of the Cavilla family, whose lives were tragically ended in September 1902 in a brutal murder that shocked the nation. An unemployed house painter called Frank Cavilla, aged 34 years of Batavia road, New Cross, cut the throats of his wife Helena (33 years) and four children, Frank Herbert (12 years), Walter (8 years), Nellie Violet (4 years) and Ernest Eugene (16 months). On the 20th October 1902 Frank Cavilla appeared at the Central Criminal Court, Old Bailey, and was found to be insane and unable to plead. He was ordered to be detained during His Majesty's pleasure  and he died in 1942 at Broadmoor Hospital.

Source: New Zealand Herald, Volume XXXIX, Issue 12099, 18 October 1902, Page 2

In 1903, the American novelist, journalist and social activist Jack London wrote The People of the Abyss, his famous first hand account of the dire and degrading living conditions of the poorer parts of East London. He spent time undercover sleeping on the streets, staying in workhouses and lodging with a poor family. The book offered a vivid, sad and harrowing ethnographic account of the lives of those struggling to survive in the richest city on earth, with London described as 'a huge man-killing machine'. 

Jack London's famous short adventure novel' The Call of the Wild' was also published in 1903 and is still one of the best known stories written by an American author.

Photo of Jack London c.1902 London (Source : Color by Klimbin)

Jack London arrived in London from the USA as a war correspondent en route to cover the South African War when hostilities ended in 1902 and his contract was cancelled. His friend Upton Sinclair reported that "for years afterwards, the memories of this stunted and depraved population haunted him beyond all peace". And London himself declared: "No other book of mine took so much of my young heart and tears as that study of the economic degradation of the poor."

During his research for the book he read newspaper articles on the Frank Cavilla murder case and incorporated this moving account of Frank's first appearance at Greenwich Police Court charged with killing his family. It is to be found in Chapter Twenty -Two of the book, an excerpt of which is reproduced below :

The People of the Abyss:

Chapter XXII—Suicide

'He is a good-looking man, with a mass of black hair, dark, expressive eyes, delicately chiselled nose and chin, and wavy, fair moustache.' This is the reporter's description of Frank Cavilla as he stood in court, this dreary month of September, 'dressed in a much worn gray suit, and wearing no collar.'

Frank Cavilla lived and worked as a house decorator in London. He is described as a good workman, a steady fellow, and not given to drink, while all his neighbors unite in testifying that he was a gentle and affectionate husband and father.

His wife, Hannah Cavilla, was a big, handsome, light-hearted woman. She saw to it that his children were sent neat and clean (the neighbors all remarked the fact) to the Childeric Road Board School.  And so, with such a man, so blessed, working steadily and living temperately, all went well, and the goose hung high. Then the thing happened. He worked for a Mr. Beck, builder, and lived in one of his master's houses in Trundley Road, Mr. Beck was thrown from his trap and killed. The thing was an unruly horse, and, as I say, it happened. Cavilla had to seek fresh employment and find another house.

This occurred eighteen months ago. For eighteen months he fought the big fight. He got rooms in a little house on Batavia Road, but could not make both ends meet. Steady work could not be obtained. He struggled manfully at casual employment of all sorts, his wife and four children starving before his eyes. He starved himself, and grew weak, and fell ill. This was three months ago, and then there was absolutely no food at all. They made no complaint, spoke no word; but poor folk know. The housewives of Batavia Road sent them food, but so respectable were the Cavillas that the food was sent anonymously, mysteriously, so as not to hurt their pride.

The thing had happened. He had fought, and starved, and suffered for eighteen months. He got up one September morning, early. He opened his pocket-knife. He cut the throat of his wife, Hannah Cavilla, aged thirty-three. He cut the throat of his first-born, Frank, aged twelve. He cut the throat of his son, Walter, aged eight. He cut the throat of his daughter, Nellie, aged four. He cut the throat of his youngest-born, Ernest, aged sixteen months. Then he watched beside the dead all day until the evening, when the police came, and he told them to put a penny in the slot of the gas-meter in order that they might have light to see.

Frank Cavilla stood in court, dressed in a much worn gray suit, and wearing no collar. He was a good-looking man, with a mass of black hair, dark, expressive eyes, delicately chiselled nose and chin, and wavy, fair moustache.

Frank Cavilla's older children were described as ' respectfully dressed' and regular attenders of nearby Childeric Road Board School, New Cross.

The only extant photographic image of the Cavilla family is that of Frank's father, Joseph Damien Coelhe De Cavilla, who was born in Gibraltar and moved to London to work as a Wine Merchant. He died in 1873 is buried in Camberwell Old Cemetery. (Source : Ancestry website)

How Charles Penruddocke found notoriety in the Newgate Calendar

Charles Wadham Wyndham Penruddock (artist’s impression) 
Source : Depart Hence and Sin No More. David Kidd-Hewitt (2018) 

Located alongside the pathway close to the entrance to Ladywell cemetery is found a much faded headstone on which the keen observer can discern an inscription of the wonderfully named Charles Wadham Wyndham Penruddocke, born in Bath in 1813. This gravesite has often featured as a stopping point on past guided walks chiefly for the reason that in 1836 Charles Penruddocke achieved a unwelcome distinction, for an aspiring apothecary (chemist) with respectable connections in the West of England, of finding himself entering into the annals of infamy detailed in the Newgate calendar subtitled the Malefactors Bloody Register.

Comprised of the tales of both famous and lesser-known criminals from the 18th and 19th centuries and named after Newgate Prison in London, the Newgate Calendar became one of the most popular books of its day and was said to be as much a part of the British household as the Bible!

To merit such an inauspicious entry the following account will offer the reader a lurid crime narrative: 

A Student, Convicted of Assaulting an Examiner who asked him Difficult Questions. 

At the Central Criminal Court, on Wednesday the 1st of February 1837, Charles Wadham Wyndham Penruddock, was indicted for assaulting and wounding Mr. Thomas Hardy, with intent to maim and disable him. 

The prisoner, it appeared, was a medical student, and a candidate for admission to practise as an apothecary. On the 22d of December 1836, he went to Apothecaries' Hall for the purpose of undergoing the customary examination, when Mr. Hardy, Mr. Este, Mr. Randall, and Dr. Merriman, were the examiners. The usual course of questions was taken, but the prisoner, by his answers, showed himself to be ignorant of many necessary branches of his profession. A question being put to him by Mr. Este, the prisoner did not immediately answer it, upon which Mr. Randall offered some explanatory observation. With considerable violence of tone and manner, the prisoner asked, "How the devil he could answer, if they all badgered him with questions? "And that question being passed over, the inquiry proceeded. Mr. Este, who was the chief examiner, put several points to him, upon which, however, he seemed unable to give any explanation, and which Mr. Este partly answered himself; but Mr. Hardy suggested, that this was not the proper course of examination, and that the real fitness of the prisoner to receive the certificate which he sought to obtain, ought to be ascertained before it was granted to him. 

Some new questions were then proposed which he answered incorrectly; and the prisoner, apparently seeing that he should be turned back, declared that he never could answer questions, even at school. Mr. Ridout observed, that it was only by questions that the examiners could determine the qualifications of the candidates for certificates; that in the performance of their duties they were compelled to be strict, and that they could have no wish to injure him or any other young man. The prisoner remarked that Mr. Ridout and Mr. Este had conducted themselves like gentlemen to him, and he asked that they would examine him in anatomy, for he had studied that branch of his business with great care, and he had almost lived in the dead-house. This, however, he was told, was not within their course of examination, and that unless he was acquainted also with Chemistry, Therapeutics, and Materia Medica, he was not competent to practise. 

The prisoner remarked that in a pecuniary point of view their licence was of no importance to him, because he was going to leave the country; but he added, with much violence, that "he would not be disgraced in the eyes of his family by such a set of fellows as they were -- he would rather die first, and would swing for it." Mr. Hardy at this moment was standing behind him, but seeing his excited state he moved three or four paces from him. The prisoner turned round to him, and looking steadfastly in his face, said, "You are one of those who have been hard upon me:" and then drawing a life-preserver heavily loaded with lead from his pocket, he struck him on the forehead, lending to the blow his utmost power. Mr. Hardy was stunned by the attack and reeled away; and Dr. Merriman and Mr. Este rushing upon the prisoner, they also received blows which were dealt with great force. The prisoner was immediately given into the custody of a policeman, when, on his being searched, a small bottle of gin, the exciting cause of his violence, was found in his pocket. 

Upon subsequent examination, Mr. Hardy, Mr. Este, and Dr. Merriman, were discovered to have sustained severe contusions, the blood flowing rapidly from the wounds of the two former gentlemen. The defence set up was, that there was nothing to show distinctly that the blows had been inflicted by the life-preserver, but that it was quite within the bounds of possibility that the knuckles of the hand only of the prisoner had come in contact with the gentlemen who had been assaulted. 

The prisoner was described as a member of a highly-respectable and honourable family in the West of England, and as being remarkable for the kindness of his disposition, and the mild quietude of his manners. Dr. Seymour, and other persons of high respectability, gave the prisoner a most excellent character for humanity, and the jury returned a verdict of "Not Guilty." 

Mr. Penruddock, however, was immediately held to bail to appear to answer the charge of common assault, of which it was admitted he had been guilty. For this offence he was tried at the London Sessions, on Wednesday the 5th of April following, and a verdict of "Guilty" having been returned, he was sentenced to be imprisoned for twelve months in Giltspur-street Compter, and on his discharge to enter into his own recognizance in 200l., and to find two sureties in 100l. each, that he should keep the peace.

Source : The Ex-Classics Website. 

Biographical details of Charles' subsequent career appear at best sketchy. His ambitions to enter medicine now behind him he appears to have settled into a mercantile lifestyle which at best seem to have fallen short resulting in another stint in jail this time after being adjudged bankrupt in 1869*. In 1885 Charles now a resident of Brockley sent a letter to the National Gallery claiming to have in his possession a genuine religious painting by the Italian Baroque painter Guido Reni (d.1642)' 'Coronation of the Virgin'. not the 'poor copy displayed in the Gallery'! Whether such a valuation happened is perhaps a moot point as Charles died the following year in 1886 aged 72 years. 

The Anglican priest who performed the final rites at the graveside was the Reverend Henry De Castro Collyer who died in 1888 and whose family grave lies a short distance away in Ladywell cemetery. 

Charles' wife, Janet Brander Penruddocke who is buried together with her husband died in 1899 aged 82 years, whilst living on Darfield Road, Brockley. 

The much weathered headstone of Charles Wadham Wyndham Penruddocke in Ladywell cemetery ( Source: Find -A- Grave)

There were no children noted in burial records from the marriage (although whether a Guido Reni masterpiece is now lying undetected in some Brockley attic awaiting rediscovery is an intriguing thought!) 

 *Charles Penruddocke's wider family links to the landed gentry are extensive and are offer a veritable genealogical lodestone for those interested .- Burke's Peerage is a good starting point. 


One of the most fascinating cemetery links with its rich maritime heritage is recounted in the remarkable journal of Thomas Reed Stavers (1798-1867) which is available to view online 

South Sea Whaling painting (New Zealand history)

With the fine spectacle of whaling ships sailing from the port of London from the 16th century onwards, Thomas followed his father, William (d.1816) and three of his four brothers, to become a master of a whaling vessel. He first went to sea in 1811, serving as a boy. But it was as a boatsteerer in 1816 aboard his father's whaleship Perseverance, hunting in the South Atlantic ocean off the Brazil Banks, that tragedy struck. His father and a seaman called Campbell were struck by a whale's tail and their boat smashed to pieces, killing both men. This poignant episode is recalled in Thomas journal thus:

'The loss of my dear Father was a great shock to me, for I now knew that all would go wrong. I had no one to comfort me in all this trouble and the Mate was drunk while the Corpse was lying in the Cabin that night. The Voyage was altered and sail was made towards Cape Horn.The next day the Body of my dear Father was committed to the Deep and it was with much trouble I could get common respect shown at the Funeral. In the afternoon all hands were called aft when the new Captain told them that he had taken charge of the ship and was now going round Cape Horn Sperm Whaling. The other officers were promoted and I was made third Mate, being the only one that knew anything about navigation.'......

Thomas Stavers went on to command many different whalers in subsequent years and many of these journeys are referenced in his writings. One of these voyages was documented by the ship surgeon, Frederick Debell Bennett, whose whaling around the globe of 1833 -1836 was a favourite of novelist Herman Melville, author of the famous 1851 novel Moby-Dick or 'The Whale' (which was based on the sinking by a Sperm Whale of an American whaling ship sailing from Nantucket called the Essex in 1820) . He lived with his wife, Frances (Fanny) in Java in the Dutch East Indies for some years, occupying many roles such as engineer, shipping agent and sugar mill operator, before returning to live at 373 New Cross road, Deptford with his wife as his eyesight began deteriorating in his final years. He was interred in Deptford (Brockley) cemetery on the 13th February 1867. Frances died in the Netherlands in 1878.

Thomas Reed Stavers - painting undated ( Geni )

Sadly Thomas Reed Stavers name does not appear on the solid plinthed headstone which is located close to the Brockley cemetery entrance. The Jobling Family name is inscribed on the headstone.

The faded headstone of one of his brothers , Master Mariner Peter Mellish Stavers (d.1870) lies nearby (the image of a whaling ship is just discernible on the headstone in the right light!) One of his many maritime adventures included surviving a mutiny aboard the convict ship 'Argyle ' en route to Van Dieman's Land ( Tasmania) in 1831.

Historical Footnotes :

Another significant naval journal was penned by Charles Wittit Poynter (1797-1878) who was a Master Mate of Captain Edward Bransfield on the Brig (a sailing vessel with two square-rigged masts) Williams in 1820 when he sighted the unmapped South Shetland Islands (North West tip of Antarctica). His journal of the voyage and enthrallingly written first hand Midshipman's account of the first european discovery of Antartica and an invaluable addition to the literature on polar exploration was only discovered in 1998 in New Zealand. He recalled this historic moment of discovery thus: “We were unexpectedly astonished by the discovery of land'. Poynter Hill on the Antarctic peninsula ( ( height 2,707 ft) was named after him in 1950. 

Charles Wittit Poynter was buried in Ladywell cemetery on the 21st December, 1878. To date the exact whereabouts of his grave remains undiscovered. It appears to lie in an area of public graves near to the Ladywell Wall of Remembrance. It would be a fitting tribute to have his headstone restored after more than 200 years since the historic voyage, during which the Antarctic mainland was sighted for the first time.

The Discovery of the South Shetland Islands; The Voyages of the Brig Williams 1819-20, as recorded in contemporary documents, and the Journal of Midshipman C. W. Poynter Hakluyt Society Third Series No. 4 by R. J.

Below is the grave of Joseph Wallis d.1865 and his wife Rachel Wallis d.1864 which lies close to the Stavers burial sites in Brockley cemetery. His father was also a Joseph Wallis ( d.1833) - Carpenter on HMS Resolution during Captain James Cook's second voyage to the Pacific which was fitted out in Deptford in 1771.

The much faded headstone of Joseph Wallis in Brockley cemetery (source : find a grave)

Grave of the Artist William Shakespeare Burton discovered in Ladywell cemetery!

It was with mounting anticipation that I searched for the last resting place of the artist William Shakespeare Burton (d.1916) on a rainy day in Ladywell cemetery. The burial record, accessed via deceased online after many serendipitous forays into past cemetery lives research, indicated that the grave number was F/229 and although this notation was clearly visible on a stumpy curbstone, the forlorn surround of the grave was all that remained for this now elated cemetery historian.

Mike Guilfoyle (Vice-Chair Foblc) aside the newly discovered grave of the Artist William Shakespeare Burton ( photo courtesy of Phill Barnes-Warden)

So just who was this namesake of the famed bard?  Born in London in 1824, William Shakespeare Burton was a genre and historical painter of the Victorian era, educated at King's College and the Royal Academy School who is best remembered for his painting, composed in the Pre-Raphaelite tradition and now housed in the Guildhall Art Gallery, London, The Wounded Cavalier (1855).

The dramatist and critic Tom Taylor helped the young William by offering him paid work at Punch magazine. Taylor's play, 'Our American Cousin' was being performed at Ford's Theatre, Washington D.C. on the 14 th April, 1865 when President Abraham Lincoln attending the production was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth.

The Wounded Cavalier’ by William Shakespeare Burton (1824-1916), the Guildhall Art Gallery, London

The painting is very much in the Pre-Raphaelite tradition, that is, it is painted meticulously from nature, and, in order to get the wanted clarity of colour, the artist  first covered the canvas with a wet white ground to give the painting a sort of luminosity. W S Burton even went so far as to dig a deep pit for himself and his easel so that the wounded cavalier and the young woman tending him are viewed from ground level. (Source : Every Picture Tells a Story : The Wounded Cavalier by W S Burton -Elizabeth Hawksley)

Self -Portrait of William Shakespeare Burton c 1899 ( National Portrait Gallery, London)

In his later years W S Burton mainly devoted himself to painting religious subjects and was plagued by poor eyesight and attendant personal difficulties, possibly including lack of proper artistic recognition? He remained active as a painter into his eighties.  His second wife Mina Elizabeth Burton (1840-1911) was the author of a novel titled Ruling the Planets (1891). She is buried with her husband. William died at the venerable age of 92 years at Belmont Park, Lee. (His first wife , Maria Rainford died in 1862 *)

In 2018 international attention in the art world focused on a rediscovered work by William Shakespeare Burton, titled King of Sorrows, depicting Jesus Christ prior to the crucifixion, with a crown of thorns and rope-bound hands. The 53-by-43-inch oil on canvas was exhibited at the Royal Academy in London in 1897 and then, seemingly, disappeared. See attached for a contemporary article which includes a photograph of WBS working on the canvass of the painting having entertained the writer who describes visiting WSB at his ' little nest of culture ' in Blackheath.

A National Portrait Gallery website article referenced the painting as “untraced” until it surfaced as part of the estate of Tennessee businessman Larry Casey. It realized at auction $14,080. (c. £10,300)

William Evans Burton (1804-1860) stage nickname ' Billy', William's father moved to the USA in 1834 having fled England in the wake of a public scandal caused by his marriage to a sixteen-year-old orphan!. and became a well known actor. A Shakespeare scholar, playwright, Theatre Manager and Publisher. He had a stormy and complex professional relationship with the writer Edgar Allen Poe.  In 1837 he wrote   'The Secret Cell', detailing a London policeman's efforts to trace an abducted girl and arrest her kidnappers. It is considered one of the first Detective stories ever published four years prior to Poe's ' short story , 'The Murders in the Rue Morgue' ( 1841) which is now viewed as the first modern detective story.!For a fuller biography of this remarkable figure see

*WSB father in law was the Oldham ( Lancashire) born, Edward Rainford (1792-1876) an English & foreign bookseller, (second hand & new) and a member of the Radical Club. One of his literary customers had this to say of him , "I would recommend to you a bookseller named Edward Rainford, 86 High Holborn, & if you will communicate with him the first time through me you will have no difficulty with him afterwards. He is a most deserving person." Letter written by the eminent political philosopher John Stuart Mill on 07 May 1840 .

Edward Rainford died in Lewisham and is also buried in Ladywell cemetery.( his grave site has yet to be located!)

For further biographical information on Edward Rainford readers might like to start with this excellent on -line source Edward Rainford (abt.1792-1876) | WikiTree FREE Family Tree

Bringing in the New Year with Charles Dickens

The cruciform headstone of Marianne Layard (d.1879 whilst living in Blackheath) lies undisturbed aside a shady inner pathway in Ladywell cemetery. The Layards were a distinguished Huguenot family including two members with entries in the Dictionary of National Biography (Sir Austen Henry Layard included here and Daniel Peter Layard d.1802).

  Photo of Marianne Layard buried in Ladywell cemetery 

She was the daughter of Nathaniel Austen, banker, of Ramsgate, whose uncle was Benjamin Austen, a London solicitor was a close friend of Benjamin Disrael and distantly related to the novelist Jane Austen.

Marianne married Henry Peter Layard in 1814 and was the mother of Mary Layard (1816-1816), b. Brussels, Belgium

Austen Henry Layard (1817-1894), b. Paris,

France Frederic Peter Layard (1818-1891), b. Bath,

Arthur John Layard (1819-1855), b. Bath,

Bernard Julian Layard (1820-1821), b. Florence, Italy.

Peregrine Edward Layard (1822-1822), b. Florence, Italy

Edgar Leopold Layard (1824-1900), b. Florence, Italy.

But for the purposes of this post from such an illustrious family lineage I have selected a Christmas meeting between Sir Austen Henry Layard and the novelist Charles Dickens from 1852. The background to their friendship is described below.

In 1848 Henry Layard, while staying at Canford (Dorset), finished his book “Nineveh and its Remains” and immediately left for Constantinople. By the time he returned to England in July 1851 his book had become a bestseller and he was a much a sought after guest of the rich and famous – Charles Dickens amongst them. In December 1851 Dickens invited Layard to see in the New Year with him. His letter suggests that they had met previously at The Grapes in Wapping and at a reception held by Miss Coutts, an extremely rich heiress and philanthropist.



I want to renew your recollection of "the last time we parted"--not at Wapping Old Stairs, but at Miss Coutts's--when we vowed to be more intimate after all nations should have departed from Hyde Park, and I should be able to emerge from my cave on the sea-shore.

Can you, and will you, be in town on Wednesday, the last day of the present old year? If yes, will you dine with us at a quarter after six, and see the New Year in with such extemporaneous follies of an exploded sort (in genteel society) as may occur to us? Both Mrs. Dickens and I would be really delighted if this should find you free to give us the pleasure of your society.

Believe me always, very faithfully yours.”

In 1853 Dickens left England with Wilkie Collins for a holiday in Europe and met Layard in Naples.Where their sybaritic interests seem to coincide :

'Of macaroni we ate very considerable quantities everywhere; also, for the benefit of Italy, we took our share of every description of wine. At Naples I found Layard, the Nineveh traveller, who is a friend of mine and an admirable fellow; so we fraternised and went up Vesuvius together, and ate more macaroni and drank more wine." (1854 letter from Charles Dickens)

Layard later sent a present of Venetian champagne tumblers to Dickens to celebrate his marriage (1869)

He died in 1894 and his grave is to be found in Canford Magna parish church yard . The angular mabled headstone bears a striking similarity to that of his mother's in Ladywell cemetery.

Austen Henry Layard (1817-1894), British archaeologist, politician and diplomat, 1851. He excavated Nimrud/Nineveh, Iraq. Wood engraving.

Three of his illustrious siblings who survived infancy are remembered below.

Photograph of Captain Layard (Austen's younger brother) standing beside a horse, both facing left. He is wearing military uniform and holding the reins in his right hand and a sword in his left. There is a tent behind him to the left. Captain Layard was aide-de-camp to General Pennefather during the Crimean War and died of disease in 1855. (Photograph : Roger Fenton -Royal Collection Trust)

Generel Frederic Peter Layard, (1818-1891) became Bengal Army Ensign, 19th Bengal Native Infantry in 1838; Captain in 1851; Major in 1862; and Colonel with Bengal Staff Corps in 1864. He was a keen amateur artist and many of his sketches of Bengal (Volume 1 c.1851) are much sought after.

His son Lieutenant Julian Henry Layard, was a British military attach̩ who served with the Ottoman Army under Osman Pasha and died in 1877 at Shipka in Bulgaria Рtaken by typhoid during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878.

Edgar Leopold Layard ( 1824-1900) was a Naturalist and Ornithologist who in 1887 published The Birds of South Africa, where he described 702 species. His avian fame is remembered by the name of a parakeet (not those fluttering noisily over the cemetery!) but a species of green parrot found in Sri Lanka , called 'Layard's parakeet'

This very readable and accessible journal of his mid -19th century excavations is a gripping narrative of archaeological discovery and gritty historical endeavour and reads like an early Indiana Jones adventure!


The headstone of the Actor, Comedian and Playwright John Baldwin Buckstone (1802-1879) lies a short distance away . He was one of Charles Dicken's favourite actors and his life is narrated by Mike Guilfoyle in the tenth and final podcast on some of the cemetery's illustrious deceased produced by Tempest Productions .London Epitaphs 10. JB Buckstone by Tempest Productions