Blue Jemmy

On 12th May 1827 edition of Jackson’s Oxford Journal a brief reference was made regarding the execution of James Clase, known as Blue Jemmy, for horse stealing. The story was syndicated in several local newspapers, as Blue Jemmy had, over the years, gained considerable notoriety. An excerpt read:

Execution – James Clase, better known by the name of ‘Blue Jemmy,’ for horse stealing . . . [was] executed at Ilchester on Wednesday. Clase is said to have confessed to having stolen not less than a hundred horses, and he had been brought to the bar nineteen times; he had been tried at Dorchester, Exeter and Taunton. In early life he lived as a post-boy at Salisbury, afterwards joined some Gypsies, and at length commenced those practices which brought him to an ignominious end, at the age of fifty-two.

If the details regarding place, age and Gypsy links are to be believed, the baptism of a James Classy (sic) on 2nd July 1775, son of John and Betty, at Warminster, Wiltshire, ‘aged five months,’ may well be his. John Clase, son of James, was himself baptised at Longbridge Deverill, Wiltshire on 1st February 1754 and he and Elizabeth Moody baptised several children in the area, including, of course, James, named for John’s father.

There are several prison records for James Clase/Clease, in Devon, in Dorset and in Somerset, where, although charged with larceny or horse-stealing, he had generally been fortunate enough to be acquitted. However, in the Dorchester prison record of 7th January 1823, where he confirms his place of origin as Longbridge Deverill, Wiltshire, he claims birth about 1779, some fours years out.

Interestingly, the marriage of a James Clease of Longbridge Deverill, Wiltshire on 10th August 1806, when he would have been about thirty-one years of age, to an Elganny Stanley, a member of an important Gypsy tribe, may well confirm what little we know of Blue Jemmy’s history.

The unusual name of Elganny appears in the Stanley family a number of times, including perhaps, as early as 1744, when the Midsummer quarter sessions at Winchester, Hampshire, record the removal of a Richard Stanley, son of Parthenia and Hercules, and his wife, Millicent, together with their daughter, Clarinda, as well as a James, Thomas and Elgina Scamp, and their daughter, Mary. This seems to be, as was usual, a family group travelling together, and it is possible to argue that Elgina (surely a corruption of Elganny) was a Stanley by birth, and a sister of Richard’s (unless, of course, the link was through Richard’s wife, Millicent).

There are only six known children of Hercules and Parthenia: Hercules, Richard, Mary, Artula, Peter and Edward, the last two of whom died in infancy; it is, therefore, likely there are a number of children not yet traced. Perhaps one such descendant, possibly a grandson, is Benjamin Stanley, connected to Parthenia, and her son, Richard, through territorial links, whose son, Owen Stanley, and his wife, Harriet Wharton, were to baptise a daughter Algenny in 1841.

According to the Dorset prison records of 1824, Owen Stanley and his father, Benjamin, claimed the parish of Okeford Fitzpaine, in Dorset, as their place of settlement. This location, one that they considered home, linked them with Parthenia, who had also named Okeford Fitzpaine as home territory on her vagrancy pass as early as 1764, sixty years earlier.

Elganny Stanley, wife of James Clase/Clease surely belongs to this tribe of Stanleys, perhaps a grand-daughter of Parthenia, and not simply because of her own unusual name, but because of her choice of name for her first daughter. The known children of James and Elganny include James and Pyrthina, who were baptised together at Lea, Gloucestershire, on 3rd May 1807, the son and daughter of James and Elgany Clease (sic); the cleric had helpfully added in the margin, ‘the parents were travellers – the daughter was born in the Hundred of St. Briavels, and the son in a parish near Weymouth, as the mother declared.’

Other baptisms for this couple were Charles Hardwell Clease, at West Hatch, Somerset, on 31st March 1815, s/o James and Algenny Clease; William Clase, at Lapford, Devon, on 7th December 1817, s/o James and Algenny Clase; Robert Clace, at Nether Compton, Dorset, on 28th January 1821, s/o James and Elganny Clace, ‘travellers.’ These baptisms in Somerset, Devon and Dorset seem to reflect the known travelling patterns of Blue Jemmy.

In addition, there are two burials that are likely to be those of the children of James and Elganny. A Sarah Clasee was buried at Langton Long Blandford, Dorset, on 22nd November 1809, d/o Elganny and a Bathinney Clasce at Shillingstone, Dorset, on 7th December 1809, just two weeks later. This last child may perhaps be the Pyrthina/Parthenia baptised two years earlier.

Little is known of the sons of James and Elganny, except for a brief mention of the eldest, James, baptised in 1807, in court proceedings in Devon, at the Lent quarter sessions of 1821, when both he and his father were charged with larceny; whilst the elder James was acquitted, his son, who was about 14 years of age at the time, was sentenced to one month’s imprisonment. The following year an Elgard Stanley was recorded in Bodmin gaol, surely this is Elganny? She claimed to come from Dorset and to be thirty-four years of age; this would give her a birth date of about 1788, making her about eighteen years of age when she married James Clase/Clease. She was convicted of ‘pretending to be a Gypsy and of telling fortunes,’ and given three calendar months’ hard labour; her description is of a woman of 5’3″ with dark eyes and hair, with a fresh complexion. Interestingly, two of the children with her at this time are named as Charles and Henrietta. Could the Henrietta possibly be the woman who, as Henrietta Stanley, united with Matthew Broadway, and claimed birth in 1812/1813? Her story is also told on this site.

Given what was said and known about Blue Jemmy, a native of Wiltshire, who married into a Gypsy family, was arrested in locales James and Elganny clearly travelled, and claimed to be fifty-two years of age at his death, so born in about 1775, James Clase, husband of Elganny Stanley, is surely a strong candidate for the role of the notorious Blue Jemmy.