Executed at Tyburn, 20th of February, 1745, for Sheep-Stealing
BY an Act of Parliament passed in the fourteenth year of the reign of King George II., for the security of farmers and graziers, it is thus enacted:
"If any person or persons, after the first day of May, 1741, shall feloniously drive away or in any manner feloniously steal any sheep, or shall wilfully kill one or more sheep, with intent to steal the whole or any part of the carcasses, the person or persons so offending shall suffer death, without benefit of clergy."
This law denounces the punishment of death to any person offending against it, and though the crime is frequently committed, few are executed for sheep-stealing, as the law is seldom put in force owing to the humanity of the judges or the prosecutors, who probably consider that the offence is committed in consequence of the calls of hunger, and dread of starving. The offence of these men were not however of that description, as they destroyed whole flocks, in order to get possession of the fat, and deserved as severe a punishment as any other robbers.
Patrick Bourke and George Ellis were indicted at the sessions held at the Old Bailey in December, 1744, for killing fifteen ewe sheep, the property of John Messenger, of Kensington, with intention to steal part of the carcasses -- to wit, the fat near the kidneys.
Mr Messenger deposed that he had lost fifteen ewes; that their throats were cut, their bellies ripped open, and the fat taken out; and likewise said that he had lost twenty-seven lambs, which were taken out of those ewes; and he deposed that the prisoners both confessed the crime before Sir Thomas Devil on the Tuesday following; and that Bourke acknowledged they sold the fat to a tallow-chandler, for forty-one shillings and twopence-halfpenny.
Richard Twyford proved the finding the sheep ripped open, and the fat taken out; and that the lambs were dragging by the sides of them: and swore that the prisoners had owned the taking the gates from the farm to pen the sheep up.
Joseph Agnew, a constable, swore that Ellis came to him; and after having told him of a quarrel between him and Bourke, who had given him two black eyes, he acknowledged that he had been concerned with him in the commission of the crime above-mentioned. Hereupon the constable took with him three watchmen, and going to Bourke's lodgings, seized him in bed, and found a clasp-knife, laying on the ground near the feet of the bed, on which was some fat, which likewise remained when the knife was produced in court on the trial.
Bourke, in his defence, said that he was kept drunk by the constable in order to induce him to make a confession, but this not being credited by the jury, and there being other proofs of the fact having been acknowledged, they were capitally convicted, and received sentence of death. They were hanged at Tyburn, on 20th of February, 1745.
At the summer assizes in 1757, for the county of Lincoln, a deaf and dumb man, called Matthew Pullen, was indicted for sheep-stealing. The court ordered a jury to be impanelled, not to try him for larceny, but to inquire whether he stood mute by the act of Providence, or through obstinacy. It was proved by his father-in-law, and some neighbours, that from his infancy he was deaf and dumb, and the jury therefore brought in their verdict, 'that he stood mute by the act of God,' and he was discharged in gaol delivery.
There being no punishment for the deaf and dumb, any more than for those that are proved non compos mentis, the actions of both ought to be kept under restraint. This deaf and dumb sheep-stealer, must certainly have been conscious that he was doing wrong when he stole his neighbour's sheep, and it seems unreasonable that he should escape without some punishment, as such a precedent may prove very injurious in its consequences, for it implies that any person who is deaf and dumb is at liberty to steal sheep with impunity.