Of Yarmouth Dickens wrote that it ‘is the strangest place in the wide world.’
He visited Yarmouth after he had visited Stanfield Hall where James Rush had murdered Isaac Jermy, and it must have fired his imagination for there in David Copperfield he put Mr Peggotty, Ham, Little Em’ly and Mrs Gummidge, living in their house made of a boat. Little Em’ly is ruined by Steerforth and Martha Endell is a ruined girl who goes to London and works as a prostitute. Both are eventually saved, though in real life many of these girls of the servant class were abandoned by their lovers, and there are many cases of child murder by desperate girls who had no one to turn to.
Perhaps, in creating Little Em’ly and Martha, Dickens remembered a dreadful murder at Yarmouth which was reported in the The Terrific Register. It was the story of a servant girl who threw her bastard child into the sea – not once, but three times, for the sea gave up the child – and, determining to kill it, she beat it with a stone. The body was washed up again and the mother was tried and executed.
In 1846, the London papers reported the execution of Samuel Yarham who was hanged on April 11th at Norwich Castle – by the ubiquitous Mr Calcraft. There was crowd of 20,000 people – 1,800 came by train from Yarmouth to see their neighbour pay for his crime.
The murder of Mrs Candler, a grocer, took place in 1844. Her throat had been cut and money taken from her premises. It was known that she was in possession of £150 from a relative. One of the important witnesses was Mr Dick who found a bag of Mrs Candler’s money buried in the sand. Mrs Dick gave the vital evidence that sealed Samuel Yarham’s fate – she said he had confessed to her.
I wonder if the name, Mr Dick, lodged itself in Dickens’s mind along with Yarmouth and its sands and its storms.