In today’s blog I would like to delve into the character of William Dreghorn, the accomplice of Jack Farley in my novel ‘The Lady in Red.’ In many ways he is dragged into Jack’s infamy against his wishes. He was never that keen on their nightly activities in the local graveyard, digging up corpses so as to keep a London surgeon well stocked with subjects to display “his not inconsiderable arts” as Jack puts it. That was bad enough, but when Jack suggests they should “lend a helping hand to death” William is strongly opposed to the idea and tells his colleague so. However, Jack holds something over him which he uses to get William on his side.
What is this something? Well, some time before, William had partaken a little too readily in the local alehouse and had become embroiled in a fight. This fight got out of hand leaving William with blood on his hands and the death of another man on his conscience. As it ultimately transpires this is an incident which plagues William throughout his life and into his heavenly abode. He comes to regret giving in to Jack’s conniving ways and allowing the threat of turning him into the authorities to act on his as it does. For Jack had been a witness to the fight in question and brings it out into the open when William expresses his disdain for Jack’s sinister plan.
From this moment on, William acts as Jack’s accomplice, attracting the attention of their would-be victims while Jack appears from the shadows and the opportune time and strangles their victim to death with the help of a steel cord. The two men embark on quite a killing spree, murdering a number of folk in their search for fresh corpses. This arrangement delights the waiting doctor when they deliver up their bounty to him. Of course, he knows nothing of how the two men come by way of their bodies. But as I put it in the book he is not bothered what they had to do to offer up the corpses to him. He is more concerned by the quality of the subjects which fall into his hands and they are impressive and just what he is looking for to perform his experimental work on. This leads to Jack and William gaining a profitable reward. Their recompense for their efforts is considerably higher than others in their line of work, this being the delivering of corpses to appreciative surgeons who are in need of such ready material to work from.
The money they receive places poor William in an even bigger dilemma. He knows he and Jack have hit on a lucrative way of life so is loathe to give it all away for the sake of his own morals. However, it is clear throughout the series of grisly murders they commit that his heart is not in it like Jack’s is. Jack derives a lot of pleasure from the actual killing as he is a callous sort of individual, but William is quite decidedly not of the same mind.
A sense of relief will wash over William when the two men decide to bring an end to their partnership. This is a direct result of the Anatomy Act coming into play. There is an increasing risk their activities will be found out and that they could find themselves at the end of the hangman’s noose. This is something neither man desires so they decide to part ways.
But this is not the end of their dealings as will come to light later on in the book. This all boils down to William’s conscience which bothers him a great deal over the part he has played in their notorious partnership. He tries to make amends for this later in the novel and is successful in doing so but still finds it hard to forget everything he did in support of Jack’s murderous activities.
William, then, is not your average cold-blooded murderer. There is more to him than that. Besides, he never does any of the actual killing: that is Jack’s preserve. He acts more as a diversion, to lure their victim’s in and then allows his partner to take over so he can provide them with another lifeless corpse. Of course, this does not mean William is excluded from any sort of responsibility for these appalling crimes. He still plays a part in them. Without his assistance Jack would not be able to do when he does. But nonetheless he is nothing close to his colleague in terms of barbarity. He does not possess the same sinister intentions as Jack so he does have some redeeming features where it is very hard to find any in his fellow grave robber.