John Gonson

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Plate 3 of A Harlot's Progress - Gonson and bailiffs raid the premises of protagonist, Moll Hackabout.

Sir John Gonson (died 1765) was an English judge for nearly 50 years in the early 18th century, serving as a Justice of the Peace and Chairman of the Quarter Sessions for the City of Westminster.[1][2] Gonson was a supporter of the Society for the Reformation of Manners, and was noted for his enthusiasm for raiding brothels and for passing harsh sentences.

Gonson appears in contemporary court reports and newspaper articles, but is best known for having been depicted twice in A Harlot's Progress, William Hogarth's series of paintings from 1731 and subsequent engravings from 1732. Gonson first appears in plate 3, leading three armed bailiffs into the boudoir of the protagonist, Moll Hackabout. The character of Moll is based on a real-life prostitute, Kate Hackabout, who was apprehended by Gonson in 1730 and sentenced to hard labour for keeping a disorderly house.[3] Gonson appears again in plate 4, shown hanging from the gallows in graffiti, while Moll beats hemp in Bridewell Prison.

Gonson was mentioned twice in Satire IV of Alexander Pope's Satires of John Donne, in Essay on Man, mentioning "the storm of Gonson's lungs" and "Peace, fools, or Gonson will for Papists seize you, If once he catch you at your Jesu! Jesu!".[4] He has been called the scourge of Gin Lane or of Drury Lane, and wrote, in 1728,[5]

Gonson not only used the rod of the law to fight what he saw as the evils of immorality in London. He is listed as a founding governor of the Foundling Hospital in that charity's royal charter of 1739.[6] The first effort of its kind in the country, the Foundling Hospital was a home for abandoned children, many of them children of prostitutes. Hogarth was also a governor of the Foundling Hospital from its foundation.


  1. ^ Norton, Rictor (25 July 2002). "Suppression of Night-Houses in 1730". Early Eighteenth-Century Newspaper Reports: A Sourcebook. Retrieved 10 February 2014.
  2. ^ Norton, Rictor (31 July 2004). "Gambling in 1730". Early Eighteenth-Century Newspaper Reports: A Sourcebook. Retrieved 10 February 2014.
  3. ^ McWilliam, Neil. "A Harlot's Progress - 1732". Retrieved 10 February 2014.
  4. ^ Pope, Alexander (20 August 2007). "Essay on Man. Moral Essays and Satires". Project Gutenberg. Retrieved 10 February 2014.
  5. ^ "Review of Gin and Debauchery in an Age of Reason by Jessica Warner". New York Times. 19 January 2003. Retrieved 10 February 2014.
  6. ^ Nichols, Reginald Hugh; Wray, Francis Aslett (1935). The History of the Foundling Hospital. Oxford University Press. p. 348.