Eugene Aram

Last updated

Portrait of Eugene Aram, from the Newgate Calendar. Eugene Aram.JPG
Portrait of Eugene Aram, from the Newgate Calendar .

Eugene Aram (1704 16 August 1759) was an English philologist, but also infamous as the murderer celebrated by Thomas Hood in his ballad The Dream of Eugene Aram, and by Edward Bulwer-Lytton in his 1832 novel Eugene Aram .


Early life

Aram was born in 1704 to humble parents at Ramsgill in the West Riding of Yorkshire. His father was a gardener on the Newby Hall estate, owned by Sir Edward Blackett. His father had a good knowledge of botany and horticulture. [1]

He had a "fair school education": reading and arithmetic. At 13 he started working with his father on the Newby estate. Sir Edward allowed him to make use of his library and he taught himself Latin and Greek. In 1720 he went to work as a book-keeper in a counting house in London run by Christopher Blackett, a relative of Sir Edward. Unfortunately he contracted smallpox in London, and became very ill. He decided to return to Yorkshire and found a post as a school teacher in the small village of Netherdale. [2]

Whilst still young, he married "unfortunately" (a term then used for getting a girl pregnant before marriage) and settled as a schoolmaster at Netherdale, and during the years he spent there, he taught himself Hebrew.

In 1734 he moved to Knaresborough, where he remained as schoolmaster till 1744. In that year a man named Daniel Clark, a shoemaker in Knaresborough, and an intimate friend of Aram, was rumoured to have come into money through his wife. Aram discussed this with a friend Richard Houseman. They told Clark to start purchasing items on credit, as local shopkeepers knew of his sudden wealth. The shoemaker followed this advice and built up debts exceeding his capital.

Then, after obtaining a considerable quantity of goods from some of the tradesmen in the town, and rumours starting to spread that he could not repay the debts, Clark suddenly disappeared on 8 February 1744. The goods included jewellery and silver plates, and were of quite high value. It was first thought he had run off to escape his debts or to sell the goods. Soon after, Eugene began clearing all his own debts. Neighbours commented on his new-found wealth and on the additional absence of Richard Houseman. In April 1744 Eugene left town and went back to London where he began teaching French.

Suspicions of being concerned in this swindling transaction fell upon Aram. His garden was searched, and some of the goods found there. However, there was not sufficient evidence to convict him of any crime, he was discharged, and soon after set out for London, leaving his wife behind. In London he found employment as an usher in a school at Piccadilly and learned the Syriac language, Chaldee (Aramaic) and Arabic.


For several years he travelled through parts of England, acting as usher in a number of schools, and settled eventually at the Grammar School at King's Lynn, in Norfolk. During his travels he had amassed considerable materials for a work he had projected on etymology, entitled A Comparative Lexicon of the English, Latin, Greek, Hebrew and Celtic Languages. He was undoubtedly a pioneer in the field of philology, [3] who realised, what was then not yet admitted by scholars, the affinity of the Celtic language to the other languages in Europe, and could dispute the then accepted belief that Latin was derived from Greek.

Aram's writings show that he had grasped the right idea on the subject of the Indo-European character of the Celtic languages, which was not established until James Cowles Prichard published his book, Eastern Origin of the Celtic Traditions, in 1831.

By 1758 he was living in King's Lynn.


In February 1758 a skeleton was dug up at Thistle Hill in Knaresborough, while men were digging to find stone for building. Suspicion arose that it might be Clark's body. Aram's wife was interviewed and said she thought it was Clark and heavily implied that her husband Eugene may have been involved, having spent much time with Clark and also gave the name of Richard Houseman as a possible accomplice.

Houseman was found and questioned and confronted with the bones that had been found. He protested his innocence and, taking up one of the bones, said, "This is no more Dan Clark's bone than it is mine." His manner in saying this roused suspicion that he knew more of Clark's disappearance. When questioned, he contested that he had been present at the murder of Clark by him and another man, Terry, of whom nothing further is heard. Houseman's answers however indicated that the reason he knew the skeleton was not Daniel Clark was because he knew where Clark was in fact buried. On being pressed he gave information as to the place where the body had been buried in St Robert's Cave, a well-known spot near Knaresborough. He also said that Aram had killed him.

Aram had made no attempt to change his name and was tracked down in the school at King's Lynn and arrested on 21 August 1758. He was sent to York and held at Tyburn Prison. Houseman's testimony was admitted as evidence against him. [4] The trial did not begin until 3 August 1759 at York County Court.

Illustration of Aram murdering Daniel Clarke, from the Newgate Calendar. Aram murdering Daniel Clarke.JPG
Illustration of Aram murdering Daniel Clarke, from the Newgate Calendar .

Aram conducted his own defence, and did not attempt to overthrow Houseman's evidence, though there were some discrepancies in that; but made a skilful attack on the fallibility of circumstantial evidence in general, and particularly of evidence drawn from the discovery of unidentifiable bones. He brought forward several instances where bones had been found in caves, and tried to show that the bones found at St Robert's Cave were probably those of some hermit who had taken up his abode there. [4] He correctly pointed out that they had misidentified the first skeleton found, so the second body might equally be anybody.

He claimed that Clark had given him several items for safekeeping - which was certainly possible. However, Houseman claimed to have witnessed Aram kill Clark as they walked to the cave, and this evidence was damning. He said they had split Clark's goods. Houseman had buried the items in his garden.

Mrs Aram said she found her husband burning clothes in the garden on the day after Clark's disappearance.


He was found guilty, and condemned to be executed on 6 August 1759, three days after his trial. While in his cell he confessed his guilt, and threw new light on the motives for his crime, by asserting that he had discovered an affair between Clark and his own wife. On the night before his execution he made an unsuccessful attempt at suicide by opening the veins in his arm with a straight razor.

Eugene Aram was hanged at York's Tyburn in an area of the Knavesmire on 16 August 1759. His skull is preserved in King's Lynn museum.

Aram in literature

In Frances Hodgson Burnett's memoir The One I knew the Best of All, Burnett mentions Eugene Aram while describing her own guilty feeling after hiding a parkin (cake) in the cupboard as a child. She says, "[I] was an infant Eugene Aram, and the body of [my] victim was mouldering in the very house with [me]." [5]

Thomas Hood's ballad, The Dream of Eugene Aram centres on Aram's activity as a schoolteacher, contrasting his scholarship with his hidden murderous urges. Bulwer-Lytton's novel Eugene Aram creates a Romantic figure torn between violence and visionary ideals, an image that is also portrayed in W. G. Wills's play Eugene Aram, in which Henry Irving took the principal role.

Eugene Aram is also referenced in the third to last stanza of George Orwell's 1935 poem "A Happy Vicar I Might Have Been". [6]

I am the worm who never turned,

The eunuch without a harem;
Between the priest and the commissar

I walk like Eugene Aram.

P. G. Wodehouse, in several of his fictional works, references Eugene Aram, and often quotes from the last two lines of Hood's poem: "And Eugene Aram walk'd between, / With gyves upon his wrist."

I remember, as a kid, having to learn by heart a poem about a bird by the name of Eugene Aram, who had the deuce of a job in this respect. All I can recall of the actual poetry is the bit that goes:

Tum-tum, tum-tum, tum-tumty-tum, I slew him, tum-tum tum!

But I recollect that the poor blighter spent much of his valuable time dumping the corpse into ponds and burying it, and what not, only to have it pop out at him again. It was about an hour after I had shoved the parcel into the drawer when I realized that I had let myself in for just the same sort of thing.

Note: the phrase 'I slew him', does not occur in Hood's poem.

A morning spent in solitary wrestling with a guilty conscience had left Ronnie Fish thoroughly unstrung. By the time the clock over the stable struck the hour of one, his mental condition had begun to resemble that of the late Eugene Aram.

'A little trouble last night with the minions of the Law, Jeeves,' I said. 'Quite a bit of that Eugene-Aram-walked-between-with-gyves-upon-his-wrists stuff.' 'Indeed, sir? Most vexing.'

Eugene Aram is also referenced in the eighth chapter of E. Phillips Oppenheim's novel, The Great Impersonation :

'Roger Unthank was a lunatic,' Dominey pronounced deliberately. 'His behaviour from the first was the behaviour of a madman.' 'The Eugene Aram type of village schoolmaster gradually drifting into positive insanity,' Mangan acquiesced.

Eugene Aram is mentioned by Dr. Thorndyke in Chapter 11 of the R. Austin Freeman 1911 novel The Eye of Osiris, where Thorndyke expounds on the difficulty of disposing of the human body:

The essential permanence of the human body is well shown in the classical case of Eugene Aram; but a still more striking instance is that of Sekenen Ra the Third, one of the last kings of the seventeenth Egyptian dynasty.

Eugene Aram is also referenced in Chapter 6 of the 1947 novel Love Among the Ruins by Angela Thirkell  : "at which Mr. Marling went so purple in the face that his wife and son, closing in on him, walked him away like Eugene Aram." [8]

See also

Related Research Articles

Jeeves Fictional character in stories by P.G. Wodehouse

Jeeves is a fictional character in a series of comedic short stories and novels by English author P. G. Wodehouse. Jeeves is the highly competent valet of a wealthy and idle young Londoner named Bertie Wooster. First appearing in print in 1915, Jeeves continued to feature in Wodehouse's work until his last completed novel Aunts Aren't Gentlemen in 1974, a span of 60 years.

Aunt Agatha

Agatha Gregson, née Wooster, later Lady Worplesdon, is a recurring fictional character in the Jeeves stories of the British comic writer P. G. Wodehouse, being best known as Bertie Wooster’s Aunt Agatha. Haughty and overbearing, Aunt Agatha wants Bertie to marry a wife she finds suitable, though she never manages to get Bertie married, thanks to Jeeves's interference.

Bertie Wooster Fictional character by P. G. Wodehouse

Bertram Wilberforce Wooster is a fictional character in the comedic Jeeves stories created by British author P. G. Wodehouse. An amiable English gentleman and one of the "idle rich", Bertie appears alongside his valet, Jeeves, whose intelligence manages to save Bertie or one of his friends from numerous awkward situations. Bertie Wooster and Jeeves have been described as "one of the great comic double-acts of all time".

Dahlia Travers is a recurring fictional character in the Jeeves stories of English comic writer P. G. Wodehouse, being best known as Bertie Wooster's bonhomous, red-faced Aunt Dahlia. She is much beloved by her nephew, in contrast with her sister, Bertie's Aunt Agatha.

Madeline Bassett

Madeline Bassett is a fictional character in the Jeeves stories by English comic writer P. G. Wodehouse, being an excessively sentimental and fanciful young woman to whom Bertie Wooster periodically finds himself reluctantly engaged.

Roderick Spode Fictional character in P.G. Wodehouse canon

Roderick Spode, 7th Earl of Sidcup, often known as Spode or Lord Sidcup, is a recurring fictional character in the Jeeves novels of English comic writer P. G. Wodehouse. In the first novel in which he appears, he is an "amateur dictator" and the leader of a fictional fascist group in London called the Saviours of Britain, also known as the Black Shorts. He leaves the group after he inherits his title.

<i>Right Ho, Jeeves</i> 1934 novel by P. G. Wodehouse

Right Ho, Jeeves is a novel by P. G. Wodehouse, the second full-length novel featuring the popular characters Jeeves and Bertie Wooster, after Thank You, Jeeves. It was first published in the United Kingdom on 5 October 1934 by Herbert Jenkins, London, and in the United States on 15 October 1934 by Little, Brown and Company, Boston, under the title Brinkley Manor. It had also been sold to the Saturday Evening Post, in which it appeared in serial form from 23 December 1933 to 27 January 1934, and in England in the Grand Magazine from April to September 1934. Wodehouse had already started planning this sequel while working on Thank You, Jeeves.

<i>Much Obliged, Jeeves</i> 1971 novel by P.G. Wodehouse

Much Obliged, Jeeves is a comic novel by P. G. Wodehouse, published in the United Kingdom by Barrie & Jenkins, London, and in the United States by Simon & Schuster, Inc., New York under the name Jeeves and the Tie That Binds. Both editions were published on the same day, 15 October 1971, which was Wodehouse's 90th birthday.

<i>Jeeves in the Offing</i> 1960 novel by P.G. Wodehouse

Jeeves in the Offing is a comic novel by P. G. Wodehouse, first published in the United States on 4 April 1960 by Simon & Schuster, Inc., New York, under the title How Right You Are, Jeeves, and in the United Kingdom on 12 August 1960 by Herbert Jenkins, London.

Roderick Glossop

Sir Roderick Glossop is a recurring fictional character in the comic novels and short stories of P. G. Wodehouse. Sometimes referred to as a "nerve specialist" or a "loony doctor", he is a prominent practitioner of psychiatry in Wodehouse's works, appearing in several Jeeves stories and in one Blandings Castle story.

<i>Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves</i> 1963 novel by P.G. Wodehouse

Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves is a novel by P. G. Wodehouse, published in the United States on 22 March 1963 by Simon & Schuster, Inc., New York, and in the United Kingdom on 16 August 1963 by Herbert Jenkins, London. It is the ninth of eleven novels featuring Bertie Wooster and his valet Jeeves.

<i>The Code of the Woosters</i> 1938 novel by P.G. Wodehouse

The Code of the Woosters is a novel by P. G. Wodehouse, first published on 7 October 1938, in the United Kingdom by Herbert Jenkins, London, and in the United States by Doubleday, Doran, New York. It was previously serialised in The Saturday Evening Post (US) from 16 July to 3 September 1938, illustrated by Wallace Morgan, and in the London Daily Mail from 14 September to 6 October 1938.

<i>Aunts Arent Gentlemen</i> 1974 novel by P. G. Wodehouse

Aunts Aren't Gentlemen is a comic novel by P. G. Wodehouse, first published in the United Kingdom in October 1974 by Barrie & Jenkins, London, and in the United States under the title The Cat-nappers on 14 April 1975 by Simon & Schuster, New York. It was the last novel to feature some of Wodehouse's best known characters, Bertie Wooster and his resourceful valet Jeeves, and the last novel fully completed by Wodehouse before his death.

<i>Thank You, Jeeves</i> 1934 novel by P. G. Wodehouse

Thank You, Jeeves is a Jeeves comic novel by P.G. Wodehouse, first published in the United Kingdom on 16 March 1934 by Herbert Jenkins, London, and in the United States on 23 April 1934 by Little, Brown and Company, New York.

<i>Joy in the Morning</i> (Wodehouse novel) 1946 novel by P.G. Wodehouse

Joy in the Morning is a novel by English humorist P.G. Wodehouse, first published in the United States on 22 August 1946, by Doubleday & Co., New York, and in the United Kingdom on 2 June 1947, by Herbert Jenkins, London. Some later American paperback editions bore the title Jeeves in the Morning.

<i>The Mating Season</i> (novel) 1949 novel by P. G. Wodehouse

The Mating Season is a novel by P. G. Wodehouse, first published in the United Kingdom on 9 September 1949 by Herbert Jenkins, London, and in the United States on November 29, 1949 by Didier & Co., New York.

<i>Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit</i> 1954 novel by P.G. Wodehouse

Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit is a comic novel by P. G. Wodehouse, first published in the United Kingdom on 15 October 1954 by Herbert Jenkins, London and in the United States on 23 February 1955 by Simon & Schuster, Inc., New York, under the title Bertie Wooster Sees It Through. It is the seventh novel featuring Bertie Wooster and his valet Jeeves.

Aunt Agatha Takes the Count

"Aunt Agatha Takes the Count" is a short story by P. G. Wodehouse, and features the young gentleman Bertie Wooster and his valet Jeeves. The story was published in The Strand Magazine in London in April 1922, and then in Cosmopolitan in New York in October 1922. The story was also included in the 1923 collection The Inimitable Jeeves as two separate chapters, "Aunt Agatha Speaks Her Mind" and "Pearls Mean Tears".

Come On, Jeeves is a comedic play co-written by Guy Bolton and P. G. Wodehouse. The play was written in the summer of 1952, and toured the English provinces in the summer of 1954. Wodehouse adapted the play into the novel Ring for Jeeves, which was first published in April 1953, a year before the play reached production. Come On, Jeeves is still occasionally produced and was presented as recently as December 2017.


  1. The Disturbing and Horrifying Case of Eugene Aram
  2. Robert Chambers Book of Days: 15 August
  3. Lock, F P (1998). "6. Journalist and Jackal" . Edmund Burke; Volume 1 1730-1784. Oxford: Clarendon Press. p.  172. ISBN   978-0-19-820676-7.
  4. 1 2 Chisholm 1911.
  5. The One I knew Best of All
  6. Orwell poem.
  7. Wodehouse, Pelham Grenville (2008). Bill the Conqueror. London, UK: Everyman. p. 279. ISBN   9781841591544.
  8. Thirkell, Angela (1997). Love Among the Ruins . Wakefield, RI & London: Moyer Bell. p. 219. ISBN   1559212047.