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The String of Pearls

The String of Pearls: A Domestic Romance, or The Gift of the Sailor, is the earliest known rendition of Sweeney Todd's story. The story was serialized from 1846 to 1847 as a "penny dreadful" in The People’s Periodical, a type of literature published weekly during the nineteenth century in the UK with each publication costing only a penny. The story was co-authored by Thomas Peckett Prest and James Malcolm Rymer.


In London, 1785, a sailor named Lieutenant Thornhill mysteriously vanishes after visiting the Fleet Street barber known as Sweeney Todd. Thornhill was carrying a string of pearls meant as a gift for Johanna Oakley, the lover of Thornhill's missing friend, Mark Ingestrie. One of Thornhill's friends, Colonel Jeffrey, notices he's is missing after his dog, Hector, alerts him. Joined by Johanna, the duo begin to investigate Thornhill's disappearance. Suspicious of the barber, Johanna disguises herself as a boy and seeks to become Todd's newest assistant due to his previous assistant, Tobias Ragg, being arrested for "falsely" accusing Todd of being a murderer.

Unbeknownst to the citizens of London, Todd has been dismembering bodies while Mrs. Lovett made meat pies from their flesh causing an intolerable smell to emit from the pie shop chimney owned by Mrs. Lovett. Underneath the shop, Thornhill was being held prisoner and forced to help make the human meat pies. Thornhill is eventually able to escape using the lift that brings the pies from the cellar into the shop, where he makes a startling announcement to the customers:

The String of Pearls (Money-lender)

"Ladies and gentlemen – I fear that what I am going to say will spoil your appetites; but the truth is beautiful at all times, and I have to state that Mrs. Lovett's pies are made of human flesh!"

Sweeney Todd swiftly poisons Mrs. Lovett before being arrested and hanged for his crimes. Hundreds of dismembered bodies are eventually discovered in the crypts underneath St. Dunstan's church and are connected to Todd's crimes. Following Todd's execution, Mark Ingestrie is found, marries Johanna, and the two live happily ever after.[1]


The String of Pearls is available to read for free at The Dictionary of Victorian London's website.

  • Chapter 1: The Strange Customer at Sweeney Todd's
  • Chapter 2: The Spectacle Maker's Daughter
  • Chapter 3: The Dog and the Hat
  • Chapter 4: The Pie-shop in Bell Yard
  • Chapter 5: The Meeting in the Temple
  • Chapter 6: The Conference, and the Fearful Narration in the Garden
  • Chapter 7: The Barber and the Lapidary
  • Chapter 8: The Thieves' Home
  • Chapter 9: Johanna at Home, and the Resolution
  • Chapter 10: The Colonel and His Friend
  • Chapter 11: The Stranger at Lovett's
  • Chapter 12: The Resolution come to by Johanna Oakley
  • Chapter 13: Johanna's Interview with Arabella Wilmot, and the Advice
  • Chapter 14: Tobias's Threat, and its Consequences
  • Chapter 15: The Second Interview between Johanna and the Colonel in the Temple Gardens
  • Chapter 16: The Barber Makes Another Attempt to Sell the String of Pearls
  • Chapter 17: The Great Change in the Prospects of Sweeney Todd
  • Chapter 18: Tobias's Adventures During the Absence of Sweeney Todd
  • Chapter 19: The Strange Odour at St. Dunstan's Church
  • Chapter 20: Sweeney Todd's Proceedings Consequent upon the Departure of Tobias
  • Chapter 21: The Misadventure of Tobias. The Mad-House
  • Chapter 22: The Mad-House Cell
  • Chapter 23: The New Cook to Mrs. Lovett's Gets Tired of his Situation
  • Chapter 24: The Night at the Mad-House
  • Chapter 25: Mr. Fogg's Story at the Mad-House to Sweeney Todd
  • Chapter 26: Colonel Jeffery Makes Another Effort to Come at Sweeney Todd's Secret
  • Chapter 27: Tobias Makes an Attempt to Escape from the Mad-House
  • Chapter 28: The Mad-House Yard, and Tobias's New Friend
  • Chapter 29: The Consultation of Colonel Jeffery with the Magistrate
  • Chapter 30: Tobias's Escape from Mr. Fogg's Establishment
  • Chapter 31: The Rapid Journey to London of Tobias
  • Chapter 32: The Announcement in Sweeney Todd's Window. Johanna Oakley's Adventure
  • Chapter 33: The Discoveries in the Vaults of St. Dunstan's
  • Chapter 34: Johanna Alone.  The Secret.  Mr. Todd's Suspicions. The Mysterious Letter
  • Chapter 35: Sweeney Todd Commences Clearing the Road to Retirement
  • Chapter 36: The Last Batch of the Delicious Pies
  • Chapter 37: The Prisoner's Plan of Escape from the Pies
  • Chapter 38: Sweeney Todd Shaves a Good Customer. The Arrest
  • Chapter 39: The Conclusion

Possible influences[]

The Annual Register 1784

A possible influence was a murder that took place in 1784, near Fleet Street in London, published by The Annual Register. A barber, believing that the drunken man who had just entered his establishment had slept with his wife the night before, slit the man's throat from ear-to-ear.

In 1824, A Terrific Story of the Rue de Le Harpe, Paris in The Tell Tale magazine tells of an archived police report made by the Minister of Police in Paris, Joseph Fouché. The report talks about a string of murders committed by a Parisian barber during the 1800's who was in league with a pastry cook who made pies out the murder victims. Although there is no way to authenticate the "police report", it is widely believed that Thomas Prest and James Rymer were influenced by the article.[2]


  1. Wikipedia: The String of Pearls| Link | Retrieved February 20, 2021.
  2. PBS: Demon Barber | Link | Retrieved: February 20, 2021.