Home icon. The Works of Robert Graves. Exhibition: 1 April to 17 June 2011.

Cabinet 17: Home Run

They Hanged My Saintly Billy.

Robert Graves, They Hanged My Saintly Billy. London: Cassell, 1957.

Graves was a professional writer, who lived by his pen. Always on the lookout for a good story, he came across an account of William Palmer, a self-confessed forger and poisoner of some 14 people, who was publicly hanged in 1856.

Palmer’s twelve day trial for the murder of his friend, John Parsons Cook, was among the most notorious ever held at the Old Bailey; the court was packed, and the jury was misdirected by the Lord Chief Justice.

The ghost of Palmer’s mother was ever-present, exclaiming:

‘He was a bit of a scamp, but a good son to me’ and ‘They hanged my saintly Billy.’

It is no wonder that Graves, in breathing life into this tale, found it ‘almost too eery to write’. This is the first English edition.