Mother and Sons, executed in 1661 on the false Statement of the First for the alleged Murder of Mr William Harrison, who appeared alive two Years later after strange Adventures
ON the 16th of August, 1660, Mr William Harrison, aged seventy, steward to Lady Campden of Campden, in Gloucestershire, walked from Campden to Charringworth to receive her ladyship's rents. As he did not return at the usual time, his wife, about nine o'clock in the evening, sent her servant, John Perry, to meet him; but neither Harrison nor the servant returned that night. On the following morning Edward Harrison, son of the aforesaid William Harrison, went towards Charringworth, and meeting the servant Perry on the road, he learned that his father was not to be found there. They next went together to Ebrington, a village between Charringworth and Campden, where they were told by one Daniel that a Mr Harrison called at his house the previous evening, but stayed there only a few minutes. They then went to Paxford, about half-a-mile distant, where, hearing nothing of Mr Harrison, they returned to Campden. On their road thither they accidentally heard that a hat, band and comb had been recently picked up by a poor woman on the highway between Ebrington and Campden. They therefore sought for the woman, in whose possession these articles were said to be, and having found her, and identified the hat, band and comb to be the property of Harrison, they were conducted to the precise spot where they were picked up. Adjoining the road was a large furze field, which they searched, supposing that Mr Harrison might have been murdered there, as the hat, band and comb were much hacked, and the latter stained with blood. Their search was, however, in vain; and the news soon reaching Campden, so alarmed the inhabitants, that men, women and children commenced a general search for Mr Harrison, but with no success. Mrs Harrison's fear for her husband's safety now increased, and as her servant Perry, whom she had sent on the previous evening, had not duly returned, suspicion fell upon him as the murderer. On the next day Perry was apprehended, and examined before a Justice of the Peace concerning his master's absence, and his reason for staying from home all night —- when he gave this account: that in consequence of his mistress sending him to meet his master between eight and nine o'clock in the evening, he went down Campden field towards Charringworth, where meeting one William Reed, of Campden, he apprised him of the object of his journey; and further told him that, as it was growing dark, he durst not venture on his journey on foot, but would return and saddle his young master's horse. He accordingly returned with Reed to Mr Harrison's gate, where they parted. He (Perry) remained there till, on one Pierce passing by, he joined him, walked a short distance into the fields, and returned with him also to Mr Harrison's gate, where they also parted. That he, John Perry, then went into his master's hen-roost, where he lay about an hour, but slept not. That when the clock struck twelve he rose and went towards Charringworth, till a great mist rising he lost his way, and so lay the rest of the night under a hedge. That at the break of day on Friday morning he went to Charringworth, where he inquired for his master of one Edward Plaisterer, who told him that he had paid him twenty-three pounds on the previous afternoon, but that he remained with him only for a short time. He then went to one William Curtis of the same town, who likewise told him that he had heard of Mr Harrison having been there the day previous, but being from home he did not see him. He then returned home, it being about five o'clock in the morning, when on the road he met his master's son, with whom he went to Ebrington and Paxford, as before stated.
Reed, Pierce, Plaisterer and Curtis, in their examination, corroborated the whole of Perry's statement.
On Perry being asked by the justice why he was afraid to go to Charringworth at nine o'clock, and so willing to go at twelve, he replied that at nine o'clock it was dark, but at twelve the moon shone. And on being further asked why, on returning home twice, after his mistress had sent him to meet Mr Harrison, and staying till twelve o'clock, he did not inquire at home whether his master had returned before he went a third time to seek him, he answered that he knew his master was not come home, because he saw a light in his chamber window, which was usual during Mr Harrison's absence from home. Notwithstanding this explanation, it was not thought prudent to discharge Perry till further inquiry was made after his master; and accordingly he remained in custody six days, during which time he was again examined at Campden, but nothing further was elicited.
Various reports now obtained circulation, one of which was that Perry, on being again pressed to confess what he knew of the matter, said that a tinker had killed his master. He told others that a gentleman's servant of the neighbourhood had robbed and murdered him; and to others he said that he was murdered and hid in a certain bean-rick, where search was made for the body but in vain. At length he promised to disclose the whole affair if he were examined by the justice before whom he had deposed his former statement. On Friday the 24th of August, he was again examined, when, in reply to the question whether he would confess what had become of his master, he said that he was murdered, but not by him. On the justice telling him that if he knew him to be murdered it was most probable that he knew the murderer, he confessed that he did; and further, that his mother and brother had murdered Mr Harrison. The justice warned him of the serious nature of the charge, but he persisted in his assertion, which he justified by the following circumstances.
The prisoner now deposed that his mother and brother had depended on him ever since he entered into his master's service, telling him that it was in his power to relieve them, by apprising them of the day on which Mr Harrison went to collect his rents, when they proposed to waylay him and rob him. That accordingly he acquainted his brother of the day, and walked with him a short distance on his leaving home to search for Mr Harrison in the evening. That they then parted; but meeting again near Campden church, he proposed that his brother should pursue his master through some adjoining gardens, while he walked in the fields. That he soon afterwards found his master on the ground in the middle of the garden, his brother leaning over the body, and his mother standing beside him. That on being asked whether his master was dead he answered No; and that after he came up to them Mr Harrison cried: "Ah, rogues! will you kill me?" He now told his brother he hoped he would kill his master, when he replied: "Peace! peace! you're a fool," and then strangled him. Which being done, he took a bag of money out of Mr Harrison's pocket and threw it into his mother's lap. Then he and his brother agreed to throw the body into a great sink by Wallington's Mill, behind the garden; but his mother and brother requesting him to watch at a distance, and listen if all were they undertook to dispose of the body accordingly.
On being asked whether it was thrown there, he replied that he knew not; but that his mother and brother having promised to dispose of it, he left them, and went into the village of Campden. Here he met John Pierce, with whom he went into the fields, and returned to his master's gate; after which he went into the hen-roost, as before stated. Having brought with him his master's hat, band and comb, after cutting them in pieces, he threw them into the highroad, that it might be believed that his master was murdered there.
Upon this confession and accusation, warrants were issued against Joan and Richard Perry, the mother and brother of the aforesaid John Perry; but all attempts to find the body proved ineffectual. On Saturday, 25th of August, the three prisoners were examined, when Joan and Richard, on being confronted with John, denied the charge in the most positive terms; as also an accusation made by John of their having broken open Mr Harrison's house, and robbed him of a hundred and forty pounds in the previous year. At the next assizes two indictments were accordingly found against the three. As the body had not been found, the judge refused to try them for the murder. They were, however, induced to plead guilty to the indictment for the burglary. John still persisted in the story that his mother and brother had murdered Harrison, and further, that they had attempted to poison him while in prison.
At the following spring assizes they were again indicted for the murder, and severally pleaded not guilty, when John's confession being produced in evidence, he said that he was mad at the time when such confession was made. They were, however, found guilty, and were executed shortly afterwards on a hill near Campden, John Perry being hung in chains.
About two years after the execution of these unfortunate persons Mr Harrison returned to Campden, in good health. As the case excited considerable interest, Mr Harrison explained the whole of the circumstances which had thus detained him, in the following letter to Sir Thomas Overbury, a magistrate of the county of Gloucester: —-
FOR Sir THOMAS OVERBURY, Kt.
HONOURED SIR, —- In obedience to your commands, I give you this true account of my being carried away beyond the seas, my continuance there, and return home. One Thursday, in the afternoon, in the time of harvest, I went to Charringworth, to demand rents due to Lady Campden, at which time the tenants were busy in the field, and late before they came home, which occasioned my stay there till the close of the evening. I expected a considerable sum, but received only three and twenty pounds. In my return home, in the narrow passage amongst Ebrington furzes, there met me one horseman, and said, "Art thou there?" and I, fearing he would have rode over me, struck his horse on the nose. Whereupon he struck at me with his sword several blows, and ran it into my side, while I, with my little cane, made my defence as well as I could. At last another came behind me, ran me into the thigh, laid hold on the collar of my doublet, and drew me to a hedge near to the place, when another came up. They did not take my money, but mounted me behind one of them, drew my arms about his middle, and fastened my wrists together with something that had a spring lock to it, as I conceived; they then threw a great cloak over me, and carried me away. In the night they alighted at a hay-rick, which stood near a stone-pit, by a wall side, where they took away my money. About two hours before daybreak, as I heard one of them tell the other he thought it to be then, they tumbled me into the stone-pit. They stayed, as I thought, about an hour at the hay-rick; when they took horse again, one of them bid me come out of the pit. I answered, they had my money already, and asked what they would do with me. Whereupon he struck me again, drew me out, put a great quantity of money into my pockets, and mounted me again after the same manner; and on the Friday, about sunset, they brought me to a lone house upon a heath, by a thicket of bushes, where they took me down almost dead. When the woman of the house saw that I could neither stand nor speak, she asked them whether they had brought a dead man. They answered No; but a friend that was hurt, and they were carrying him to a surgeon. She answered, if they did not make haste, their friend would be dead before they could reach one. There they laid me on cushions, and suffered none to come into the room but a little girl. We stayed there all night, they giving me some broth. In the morning, very early, they mounted me, as before, and on Saturday night they brought me to a place where were two or three houses, in one of which I lay all night on cushions by their bedside. On Saturday morning they carried me from thence, and about three or four o'clock they brought me to a place by the seaside, called Deal, where they laid me down on the ground; and one of them staying by me, the other two walked a little off to meet a man, with whom they tackled, and in their discourse I heard them mention seven pounds; after which they went away together, and after half-an-hour returned. The man, whose name, as I afterwards heard, was Wrenshaw, said he feared I should die before he could get me on board. They then put me into a boat, and carried me on shipboard, where my wounds were dressed. I remained in the ship, as near as I can reckon, about six weeks; in which time I was indifferently recovered of my wounds and weakness. Then came the master of the ship and told me, and the rest who were in the same condition, that he discovered three Turkish ships. We all offered to fight in defence of the ship, and ourselves, but he commanded us to keep close, and said he would deal with them well enough. A little while after we were called up, and when we came on the deck we saw two Turkish ships close by us; into one of them we were put, and placed in a dark hole, where how long we continued before we were landed I know not. When we were landed they led us two days' journey, and put us into prison where we remained four days and a half. Eight men next came to view us, who seemed to be officers; they called us, and examined us of our trades, which everyone answered: one said that he was a surgeon, another that he was a weaver, and I said I had some skill in physic. We three were set by, and taken by three of those eight men who came to view us. It was my chance to be chosen by a grave physician of eighty-seven years of age, who lived near to Smyrna, had formerly been in England, and knew Crowland in Lincolnshire, which he preferred before all other places in England. I was there about a year and three-quarters, and then my master fell sick on a Thursday, and sent for me; and calling me as he used, by the name of Bell, told me he should die, and bid me shift for myself. He died on Saturday following, and I presently hastened to a port, almost a day's journey distant, when I addressed myself to two men who came out of a ship belonging to Hamburgh, which, as they said, was bound for Portugal within two or three days.
I inquired of them for an English ship; they answered there was none. I entreated them to take me into their ship; but they durst not, for fear of being discovered by the searchers, which might occasion the forfeiture not only of their goods but also of their lives. At length they took me on board, and placed me below in the vessel, and hid me with boards and other things, so that I lay undiscovered, notwithstanding the strict search that was made in the vessel. On arriving at Lisbon in Portugal, as soon as the master had left the ship, and was gone into the city, they set me on shore moneyless, to shift for myself. I now met four gentlemen discoursing together; after a while one of them came to me and spoke to me in a foreign language. I told him I was an Englishman. He then spoke to me in English, and told me that he was an Englishman himself, and born near Wisbeach, in Lincolnshire. I then related to him how I had been carried away, and my present condition; upon which he took me along with him, and by his interest with the master of a ship bound for England, procured my passage, and commended me to the master of the ship, who landed me safe at Dover, from whence I proceeded to London, where being furnished with necessaries, I came into the country. Having arrived at Crowland, I was told of the unhappy fate of my servant Perry, and his mother and brother. What caused John so falsely to accuse them and himself, I know not. He has not only brought his blood upon his own head, but that also of his innocent mother and brother. For I never saw either of them that evening; nor do I know who they were that carried me away after that rude and barbarous manner.
Thus, honoured sir, I have given you a true account of my great sufferings and happy deliverance. Your Worship's, in all dutiful respects,