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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.