Eugene Aram

Eugene Aram (1704 – 16 August 1759) was an English philologist, but also infamous as the murderer celebrated by Thomas Hood in his ballad, The Dream of Eugene Aram, and by Edward Bulwer-Lytton in his 1832 novel Eugene Aram.

Early life

Aram was born of humble parents at Ramsgill in North Yorkshire. He had a "fair school education" then worked in a counting house in London as a clerk before returning to Yorkshire to set up a school.[1]

Whilst still young, he married "unfortunately" (a term then used for getting a girl pregnant before marriage) and settled as a schoolmaster at Netherdale, and during the years he spent there, he taught himself Latin, Hebrew, and Greek.

In 1734 he re-moved to Knaresborough, where he remained as schoolmaster till 1744. In that year a man named Daniel Clark, a shoemaker and an intimate friend of Aram, after obtaining a considerable quantity of goods from some of the tradesmen in the town, suddenly disappeared. Suspicions of being concerned in this swindling transaction fell upon Aram. His garden was searched, and some of the goods found there. However, there was not sufficient evidence to convict him of any crime, he was discharged, and soon after set out for London, leaving his wife behind. In London he found employment as an usher in a school at Piccadilly and learned the Syriac language, Chaldee (Aramaic) and Arabic.


For several years he travelled through parts of England, acting as usher in a number of schools, and settled eventually at the Grammar School at King's Lynn, in Norfolk. During his travels he had amassed considerable materials for a work he had projected on etymology, entitled A Comparative Lexicon of the English, Latin, Greek, Hebrew and Celtic Languages. He was undoubtedly a pioneer in the field of philology,[2] who realised, what was then not yet admitted by scholars, the affinity of the Celtic language to the other languages in Europe, and could dispute the then accepted belief that Latin was derived from Greek.

Aram's writings show that he had grasped the right idea on the subject of the Indo-European character of the Celtic languages, which was not established until JC Prichard published his book, Eastern Origin of the Celtic Traditions, in 1831.


In February 1758 a skeleton was dug up at St Robert's Cave in Knaresborough, and some suspicion arose that it might be Clark's. Aram's wife had more than once hinted that her husband and a man named Houseman knew the secret of Clark's disappearance. Houseman was at once arrested and confronted with the bones that had been found. He affirmed his innocence and, taking up one of the bones, said, "This is no more Dan Clark's bone than it is mine." His manner in saying this roused suspicion that he knew more of Clark's disappearance. When questioned, he contested that he had been present at the murder of Clark by him and another man, Terry, of whom nothing further is heard. He eventually implicated Aram and also gave information as to the place where the body had been buried in St Robert's Cave, a well-known spot near Knaresborough. Aram was immediately arrested, and sent to York for trial. Houseman's testimony was admitted as evidence against him.[3]

Aram conducted his own defence, and did not attempt to overthrow Houseman's evidence, though there were some discrepancies in that; but made a skilful attack on the fallibility of circumstantial evidence in general, and particularly of evidence drawn from the discovery of unidentifiable bones. He brought forward several instances where bones had been found in caves, and tried to show that the bones found at St Robert's Cave were probably those of some hermit who had taken up his abode there.[3]


He was found guilty, and condemned to be executed on 6 August 1759, three days after his trial. While in his cell he confessed his guilt, and threw new light on the motives for his crime, by asserting that he had discovered an affair between Clark and his own wife. On the night before his execution he made an unsuccessful attempt at suicide by opening the veins in his arm with a straight razor.

Eugene Aram was hanged at York's Tyburn in an area of the Knavesmire on 16 August 1759. His skull is preserved in King's Lynn museum.

Aram in literature

In Frances Hodgson Burnett's memoir The One I knew the Best of All, Burnett mentions Eugene Aram while describing her own guilty feeling after hiding a parkin (cake) in the cupboard as a child. She says, "[I] was an infant Eugene Aram, and the body of [my] victim was mouldering in the very house with [me]."[4]

Thomas Hood's ballad, The Dream of Eugene Aram centres on Aram's activity as a schoolteacher, contrasting his scholarship with his hidden murderous urges. Bulwer-Lytton's novel Eugene Aram creates a Romantic figure torn between violence and visionary ideals, an image that is also portrayed in W.G. Wills's play Eugene Aram, in which Henry Irving took the principal role.

Eugene Aram is also referenced in the third to last stanza of George Orwell's 1935 poem "A Happy Vicar I Might Have Been".[5]

P.G. Wodehouse, in several of his fictional works, references Eugene Aram, and often quotes from the last two lines of Hood's poem: "And Eugene Aram walk’d between, / With gyves upon his wrist."

  • In Chapter 21 of his 1905 novel The Head of Kay's, when the hero Fenn loses his school cap in a possibly incriminating situation, he relates, upon its reappearance, that:
  • In the 1916 story "Jeeves Takes Charge", Bertie Wooster, who has stolen his uncle's manuscript memoir and is worried about hiding it, recalls:

Note: the phrase 'I slew him', does not occur in Hood's poem.

  • Bill the Conqueror, published in 1924, contains the reference "It was with all the depression of a Eugene Aram that he strode from the pond and buried himself in a quiet, leafy by-way."[6]
  • In 1929's Summer Lightning, Ronnie Fish is compared to Aram:

Eugene Aram is also referenced in the eighth chapter of E. Phillips Oppenheim's novel, The Great Impersonation:

Eugene Aram is mentioned by Dr. Thorndyke in Chapter 11 of the R. Austin Freeman 1911 novel The Eye of Osiris, where Thorndyke expounds on the difficulty of disposing of the human body:

See also


  1. Robert Chambers Book of Days: 15 August
  2. Lock, F P (1998). "6. Journalist and Jackal". Edmund Burke; Volume 1 1730-1784. Oxford: Clarendon Press. p. 172. ISBN 978-0-19-820676-7.
  3. Chisholm 1911.
  4. The One I knew Best of All
  5. Orwell poem.
  6. Wodehouse, Pelham Grenville (2008). Bill the Conqueror. London, UK: Everyman. p. 279. ISBN 9781841591544.
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