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Blue Jemmy* * This article first appeared in Romany Routes, and has since been slightly updated.

Anne-Marie Ford    -    2 September 2017

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 52.

If the details regarding place, age and Gypsy links are to be believed, the baptism of a James Classey (sic) on 2nd July1775, son of John and Betty, at Warminster, Wiltshire, “aged five months,” may well be his. John Clase, son of a James, was himself baptised at Deverill Longbridge, Wiltshire on 1st February1754 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, he confirms his place of origin as Longbridge Deverill, Wiltshire, but claims birth about 1779, which may throw doubt on the 1775 baptism.

Interestingly the marriage of a James Clease (sic) of Deverill Longbridge, Wiltshire on 10th August 1806, when he would have been about 31 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 a 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. 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 four 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 Stanley, 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 (?Parthenia), who were baptised together at Lea, Gloucestershire on 3rd May 1807, as 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 Algeeny Clease (sic), William Clase, at Lapford, Devon, on 7th December 1817, s/o James and Elganey Clase (sic) and Robert Clace, at Nether Compton, Dorset, on 28th January 1821, s/o James and Elgana Clace (sic), “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 Clasce was buried at Langston Long Blandford, Dorset, on 22nd November 1809, d/o Elganey (sic), and a Bathinney Clasce (sic), 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 with his sister, Pyrthina, in 1807, in court proceedings. In Devon, at the Lent Quarter Sessions of 1821, both he and his father were charged with larceny, and whilst the elder James was found not guilty, his son, who was about 14 years of age, was sentenced to one month’s imprisonment.

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 52 years of age at his death, so born in about 1775, James Clase, the husband of Elganny Stanley, born in Wiltshire, is surely, at the very least, a strong candidate for the role of the notorious Jemmy.

* This article first appeared in Romany Routes, and has since been slightly updated.

Copyright © 2017 Anne-Marie Ford