I came across an interesting story the other day in an old Norfolk
publication about the Reverend James Hackman, rector of Wiveton and one
Martha Ray (or Reay as some accounts spell it). I will begin my account
with Martha Ray, who was born around 1744.
Martha's father was a 'staymaker' a delightful term for someone who
makes corsets and her mother was a servant in a noblemans family. Martha
herself is said to have been both pretty, intelligent and gifted with a
fine singing voice. Her looks are said to have brought her to the
attention of one of her fathers customers who was so impressed with her
beauty that they mentioned her to the infamous Lord Sandwich.
So it was that at the age of 17 Martha became Sandwich's mistress (yes I
do know how that reads!). Accounts show that the Earl fell in love with
Martha and loved her deeply, so much so that they remained together for
seventeen years, until her untimely death at the hands of the Rector of
Wiveton. As Martha was gifted musically, the Earl even arranged for her
to receive the finest musical training available at that time, and she
embarked upon a career as an opera singer.
John Montagu background was that of the British aristocracy he was the
the Earl of Sandwich. He was born in 1718 and in his youth traveled
widely both in Europe and the Middle East bringing back many treasures.
At age 21 he entered the House of Lords and went on to become involved
in government for the majority of his life. He was however far from
being popular with his peers, the press and the general populace. He
also had a dreadful reputation with women, his modern nickname was 'the
To his credit he was patron to Captain James Cook the
explorer of Australia, Polynesia and New Zealand. Captain Cook named the
Sandwich Islands in Hawaii, after the earl. I am sure that it is fairly
well known but it bears mentioning, it was Lord Sandwich who reputedly
placed a slice of salt beef between two slices of bread (accounts say
the bread was toasted) whilst at the gambling tables and thus was born
the term 'sandwich'.
Martha was set up in a house in Westminster and given a generous
allowance. Though she spent a considerable amount of time down in the
Earls house at Hinchingbrooke. She bore Lord Sandwich five children all
of whom survived into adulthood. Lord Sandwich did have a wife, but
unfortunately she was considered to be mad and lived in an apartment at
Windsor Castle. Here she remained until her death in 1797 surviving both
Lord Sandwich and of course Martha. However, Martha effectively became
the Earl's wife in all but name and they behaved very much like husband
Enter James Hackman from Gosport Hampshire. Son of a
retired naval lieutenant who joined the 68th Regiment of Foot. Whilst in
Huntingdonshire with some of his fellow army officers James were
introduced to Lord Sandwich who invited him back to dinner. It was at
this dinner that James first met Martha, Hackman became instantly
He became a frequent visitor to the house. Accounts appear to indicate
that Martha was not totally immune to young James' charms (he was six
years her junior). Perhaps this might be because although Lord Sandwich
was generous, he offered her no long-term financial future or security.
Lord Sandwich was always in debt and not known for his financial acumen,
and there were of course other women.
James is said to have proposed marriage to Martha on
more than one occasion but Martha continued to remain with Lord
Sandwich. In 1779 James Hackman left the army and decided to join the
church, perhaps he thought that if he could prove to Martha that he had
a dependable income she would reconsider, his proposal. So it was that
James Hackman became the rector of Wiveton in Norfolk. Though he was
only rector for just fifty days. He continued to pursue Martha.
On 7th April Lord Sandwich told Martha to take
herself off to the Theatre Royal in Covent Garden to see a comic opera,
as she had not been out of the house for some time. As Martha was about
to get into her coach Hackman appeared from nowhere and shot her in the
forehead, within the foyer of the theatre, Martha died instantly. I have
been unable to establish how Hackman knew she was going to be there. Was
he stalking her? Or did she contact him and arrange an
After he had shot her James Hackman took out another pistol and shot
himself. However, he only managed to wound himself. He was apprehended
and imprisoned. When Lord Sandwich heard of the death of Martha he was
totally devastated. He directed that she should be buried in the clothes
in which she was assassinated. Martha was buried in Elstree on 14th
Why James shot her we will never know, letters that he wrote to his
friends around this time appear to indicate that the infatuation had
gotten out of hand. On 16th April, two days after Martha was buried
Hackman was condemned to die. He was taken to Tyburn and hanged before a
John Montagu fourth Earl of Sandwich died in 1792. It has been
speculated that George Bernard Shaw based his story 'Pygmalion'
subsequently recreated as 'My Fair Lady' on a novel written in the 1920
about Martha Ray.