W is for Wainewright

Thomas Griffiths Wainewright, artist, writer and forger, was arrested for forgery in 1837 and transported. But he was suspected of having murdered his uncle from whom he conveniently inherited a house and property. He invited his mother-in-law and her two daughters to live with him and his wife. He persuaded his mother-in-law, Mrs Abercrombie, to make her will in his wife’s favour – Mrs Abercrombie was dead within days.


He insured the life of his sister-in-law, Helen Abercrombie – she died several months later. No proof of murder could be established, but it seems that when in Newgate Wainewright admitted the murder of Helen Abercrombie because ‘she had very thick ankles.’ Dickens saw him when he visited Newgate with his friend and first biographer, John Forster, the actor William Macready, and Hablot Brown, the illustrator. It was Macready who recognised Wainewright.


Dickens dined with Doctor Laycock who had treated Helen Abercrombie and told the company how Miss Abercrombie had died exhibiting the same symptoms as her mother and uncle. Dickens had Wainewright in mind when he wrote his story Hunted Down, based on the idea of Helen Abercrombie’s lover whom Dickens imagined desiring revenge – for the murder, not the ankles.

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