ⓘ The Wench Is Dead is a historical crime novel by Colin Dexter, the eighth novel in the Inspector Morse series. The novel received the Gold Dagger Award in 1989. ..

The Wench Is Dead

ⓘ The Wench Is Dead

The Wench Is Dead is a historical crime novel by Colin Dexter, the eighth novel in the Inspector Morse series. The novel received the Gold Dagger Award in 1989.


1. Plot introduction

In 1859, the body of a young woman was found floating in the Oxford Canal; her death led to a sensational murder trial, and two men were eventually hanged for the murder.

In 1989, Inspector Morse is recovering from a bleeding ulcer in Oxfords John Radcliffe Hospital. Morse is given a book by the wife of a recently deceased patient at the hospital. The little book called Murder on the Oxford Canal tells the story of the murder of Joanna Franks aboard the canal boat Barbara Bray. Morse is soon convinced that the two men hanged for the crime were innocent and sets out to prove it from the confines of his bed.


1.1. Plot introduction Explanation of the novels title

The title of the novel comes from Christopher Marlowes play The Jew of Malta ; the following quotation serves as the epigraph to the novel:

FRIAR BARNARDINE. Thou hast committed-- BARABAS. Fornication: but that was in another country; And besides, the wench is dead.

T.S. Eliot used the same quote as an ironic prologue to his poem Portrait of a Lady poem.


2. References to actual events

Colin Dexter based the novel on the 1839 murder of 37-year-old Christina Collins as she travelled the Trent and Mersey Canal at Rugeley, Staffordshire, on the Staffordshire Knot en route to London. Of the four crewmen, captain James Owen and boatman George Thomas were hanged for the murder by William Calcraft and assistant George Smith, while boatman William Ellis was transported for his involvement following a last minute reprieve from his death sentence, and cabin boy William Muston was not charged. The evidence was largely circumstantial; the three accused were drunk at the time of the womans death, numerous witnesses attested to Collins being distressed as the men used sexually explicit language towards her, and all four men including the cabin boy were seen to have lied in court in an attempt to pin the blame on each other and to escape punishment. The three accused stated that Collins jumped into the canal of her own accord and drowned, despite the fact that the water at the particular section of the canal was less than four foot in depth. Alan Hayhurst, author of 2008 book Staffordshire Murders states that "this author does not agree with Mr Dexters conclusions!"

According to the dedication to the novel, it was Harry Judge, a "lover of canals", who introduced Dexter to the small book The Murder of Christina Collins by John Godwin, a local historian and former headteacher in Rugeley. The booklet gives many details of Christina’s early life and the criminal trial that followed her murder.

Much of the research for the novel was carried out at the William Salt Library in Stafford. Dexter recalls that he spent "a good many fruitful hours in the library" consulting contemporary newspaper reports of Christinas murder.

The novels framing device, of a detective solving a historical murder while laid up in hospital, was most famously used by the mystery novelist Josephine Tey in her 1951 novel, "The Daughter of Time". In that case, the murder of the Princes in the Tower.


3. Television and radio adaptations

The novel was filmed as an episode in Inspector Morse and was first aired on 11 November 1998. The filming took place on the Grand Union Canal at Braunston locks, south of Braunston tunnel and on the Kennet and Avon Canal, all broad canals, whereas the Oxford Canal is a narrow canal. The historical office and loading scenes were filmed at The Black Country Museum in Dudley. The Barge Inn at Honeystreet, Pewsey Wilts was used in many scenes and pictures from the filming are on their website. The boats were provided by South Midland Water Transport. Barbara Bray is actually Australia built in 1894 by Fellows, Morton & Clayton Limited. Trafalgar was Northolt built in 1899 by the same firm. Fazeley built in 1921 is also used but carries two names. Three motor boats Archimedes, Clover and Jaguar were used to tow the unpowered horse boats around the country to the various locations which involved a two-week trip.

A BBC Radio 4 play The Wench Is Dead dramatised by Guy Meredith was broadcast in 1992 starring John Shrapnel as Morse and Robert Glenister as Lewis, with Garard Green as Col. Deniston, Joanna Myers as Christine Greenaway, Peter Penry-Jones as Waggy Greenaway, and Kate Binchy as Sister MacLean. The play was directed by Ned Chaillet.


4. Publication history

  • 1991, New York: Bantam ISBN 0-553-29120-3, Pub date 1 May 1991, Paperback
  • 1991, London: Pan ISBN 0-330-31336-3, Pub date 12 July 1991, Paperback
  • 1989, London: Macmillan ISBN 0-333-51787-3, Pub date 26 October 1990, Hardback
  • 1990, New York: St. Martins Press ISBN 0-312-04444-5, Pub date May 1990, Hardback

5. Sources, references, external links

  • The Real Life Murder of Christina Collins at The Inspector Morse Society
  • Bishop, David, The Complete Inspector Morse: From the Original Novels to the TV Series London: Reynolds & Hearn 2006 ISBN 1-905287-13-5
  • Mary Jean DeMarr ed., In the Beginning, USA: Bowling Green University Popular Press 1995 ISBN 0-87972-673-3
  • Bird, Christopher, The World of Inspector Morse: A Complete A-Z Reference for the Morse Enthusiast Foreword by Colin Dexter, London: Boxtree 1998 ISBN 0-7522-2117-5
  • Landlady 2008 Prison Break as Clerk 2006 Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man s Chest as Cantina Wench 2005 Kicking Screaming as Jack s Mom 2007 Pushing
  • called New Years Associations compete in one of five categories Comics, Wench Brigades, Fancies, String bands, and Fancy Brigades They prepare elaborate
  • Rat City Rollergirl league the Sockit Wenches won the season championship at Sand Point on October 21, 2006. They beat the formerly undefeated Derby Liberation
  • Willie also, past member of The Brass Action Katie Nordgren, Bass The Wicked Wench of the West Shamus, best fiddle in the west Legends Never Die July
  • Society British Comedy and Drama Website BBC Inspector Morse The Wench is Dead The Ghost of New York City, Patrick Carroll, 24 June 2011 BBC Book
  • the previous record held at the WACA Ground, Perth, Australia in 2007. Cricket portal Beer portal Beer wench SCG crowds build 175m beer snake The Sydney
  • The Jewel That Was Ours is a crime novel by Colin Dexter, the ninth novel in Inspector Morse series. An American tourist is found dead in her room at the
  • the scandal, the king banished her from his court, declaring her naught more than a commoner street - wench yet tragically bereft of any skills of the
  • The Emperor of Ice - Cream Call the roller of big cigars, The muscular one, and bid him whip In kitchen cups concupiscent curds. Let the wenches dawdle in

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