These men, together with Thomas Rochester, and Richard Walker, were tried at the Old Bailey, April 19, 1806, for conspiring together and forging a will, with intent to defraud the next of kin to Major Richard Hawkins, of the Royal Engineer corps. The gentleman, on whose property this wicked attempt had been made, died at Trinidad; the persons who were to receive the property did not exist; yet a suit was commenced at Doctor's Commons, for the recovery of the same, by the prisoner, G. R. Walker, who was the executor, although he, on the face of the will, was not to receive the smallest benefit. Allegations were filed in support of the will, by the other three prisoners, as collateral witnesses to the will.
The first witness called upon this singular trial was Major Rowley, an officer of the corps of Engineers, who was very intimately acquainted with the late Major Richard Hawkins, of the same corps. He was captain in the Engineers, but he held the rank of Major in the army. The Major quitted England for Trinidad on the 5th of April, 1803, and witness heard officially of his death on the 10th of July in the same year. Witness went with Lieutenant Hawkins, nephew of the deceased, in October, to the house of Mrs. Bethel, Paradise-row, Lambeth, where he, the Major, had resided, to search for a will, or testimony paper; but they did not find such a paper. Witness received a letter in August, 1804, from the prisoner, George Richard Walker, whom he had formerly seen in the Island of Jersey. This was the first time witness had ever heard of a will of the late Major being in existence. Witness became acquainted with Major Hawkins in 1787, and he had since been very intimately acquainted with him; they had been staff officers together in the corps of Engineers. He had a brother and two nephews, the one an officer in the army, whom he was remarkably fond of, and the other a lieutenant in the navy. He was always on particularly good and affectionate terms with them, and in particular with the lieutenant in the army. Witness had often seen the late Major write, and he was particularly an accurate writer: he never employed an amanuensis with his own official papers. The will was here produced, and proved to be a forgery by the witness, who said there was a resemblance of the Major's hand writing. The will represented the testator as Major of the Engineer corps, when in fact there was no such commission held in the corps. Witness never knew that the late Major had any acquaintance with Elizabeth Hind or a Mr. and Mrs. Browning. Witness never knew of any acquaintance between the prisoner, G. R. Walker, and Major Hawkins; but he had been stationed at Guernsey from 1793 to 1798, where the prisoner lived.
General Moss knew Major Hawkins for the last twenty-five years, having been that time under his command in the Engineer corps, and whose reports, in his own handwriting, he always received. On looking at the will, witness was positive the signature was not the hand-writing of the late Major Hawkins. The designation of himself and his rank, in the will, was very incorrect, and the Major was always a very correct writer.
General Twist had known the late Major forty-four years, and he corroborated the statement of his brother officers, that the will was a forgery. He also knew him to have always been on very affectionate terms with his relatives, one of whom he caused to be educated at Portsmouth.
Sir W. Green, another officer, who knew Major Hawkins very well, also proved the will to be a forgery. William Test, Esq. also corroborated.
Mr. Richard Hawkins, nephew to the deceased Major, and a lieutenant in the army, stated that his family connections were a father, the late Major's brother, an own brother, and two sisters, all of whom were on the most affectionate terms. Witness heard of the death of his uncle at Trinidad in the middle of October, 1804. The will was produced, and the witness swore the signature, &c. was not the hand-writing of his uncle. He never knew the name of Elizabeth Hind, but he had heard his uncle mention Walker's name.
Robert Heddington was called, and he proved the signature of the will, and the affidavits thereto belonging, to have been written by G.Walker, Rochester, and Dodds. He would not swear to the signature of Richard Walker. The will was here read by the clerk of the arraigns, which was signed with the name of G. R. Walker, Esq. Guernsey, executor. The affidavit of Walker annexed to the will as executor went to state that he knew of no other will or codicil of the late Major Hawkins. The allegations relating to the will made by the prisoners were read in Court, and the hand-writings were severally sworn to by several witnesses.
Elizabeth Sadler, who resided in Dartmouth-street, Westminster, stated, that the prisoner, George Walker, and his wife, occupied apartments in her house in July 1803, and they went by the name of Browning. Mrs. Mary Woodford also proved that George Walker occupied apartments in her house 1803, in Brook Street, New-road, Mary-le-bone, in his own name, and also a woman of the name of Browning. Witness knew a man of the name of Heddington, and Walker was deaf. Mr. Hines lodged in the same house, and corroborated this statement.
The next witness, Heddington, who had been privy to all the transactions of the prisoner, and who was a most material witness in this case, had known the prisoner, George Walker, many years. He was employed by government at Guernsey to supply the different garrisons with coals, &c. and witness was his servant. In July 1804, he received a letter (the prisoner Rochester being then out of Walker's employ) to call on him (Rochester) in Wellclose-square, at his house. Witness did so; he was not at home; but a letter was left for him, with one inclosed for G. Walker for him to convey to his older master, in which he was not to fail. Witness delivered the letter to the woman who lived with Walker as his wife, who called herself Mrs. Browning. He was informed by Rochester, on his return to his house in Wellclose-square, that an old intimate friend of Walker's had died at Trinidad; and there was only one subscribing witness to the will, a Mrs. Browning, who had left the country in consequence of an altercation respecting family matters. Two more witnesses were necessary, and Mr. Walker had known him long, and he of course could have no objection to become a subscribing witness. The will was a good one, G. Walker was executor, and no evil could arise from his signature. An appointment was made for a meeting between G. Walker and witness, at the Circus Coffee-house, St. George's-Fields, where witness found Walker and a man of the name of Godson in waiting, who was one of Walker's clerks. Walker was deaf, and they communicated to each other on slips of paper, which were burned. Walker assured witness there was no danger in signing, and they agreed to meet and dine the next day at the house of the prisoner Rochester. They met at three o'clock, and dined together, agreeable to the appointment; the company consisted of Mrs. R. Walker and witness. After dinner, Rochester beckoned witness upstairs, and placed a paper in his hand, which was the will in question. Witness smiled, and observed, the ink was not yet dry. Rochester advised him to sign under the name of Brown, stating that he had been promised three hundred pounds to do so, on his part, and Walker would give him, the witness, one hundred pounds and five guineas to do the same. Witness positively refused to sign the will, and left the house. He saw Rochester again the next day, who informed him the will he had seen was only a copy of the original. Witness saw Dodds, who was an attorney's clerk, the following day, and he acquainted him with what had happened. Dodds begged to be introduced to the parties; for he had seen many good wills, and he was a competent judge of them. It was difficult to prove a will at Doctor's Commons for want of witnesses.
Witness apprised Rochester of what had passed, and an interview was the consequence between him and the prisoner Dodds. Richard Walker, the other prisoner, was heard of, and introduced to the parties by Dodds, at the Saracen's-Head, Snowhill. Dodds was hired to get another subscribing witness to the will, by Rochester. Rochester accused witness with having strange ideas respecting the will, and danger of signing it, which he again observed was only a copy. Mrs. Browning contended that she was the widow of a captain. The will was again produced in the presence of witness, and Dodds took it to the window, and looked at the water mark: he said that a man should not have to do with such things without having had experience. The water mark appeared to him to be plausible. Richard Walker said, he would not sign until Dodds had done so, for he was a man of the law. Witness then saw the whole of them sign, as he was standing by them.
The other part of the witness's statement went clearly to involve the whole of the prisoners in guilt. Several other witnesses were examined, and Lord Ellenborough summed up in a very humane and perspicuous manner: he occupied three hours in his charge to the jury, who withdrew for about twenty minutes, and found George Richard Walker and Christopher Dodds guilty, but acquitted the other two. The trial lasted fourteen hours, and did not conclude till eleven o'clock. The Court was excessively crowded, and many distinguished personages were on the bench with the judges. These two offenders suffered the sentence of the law, opposite the debtor's door, Newgate.