Who was executed on Kennington Common, in Surrey, 12th of April, 1749, for a Murder he did not commit1
RICHARD COLEMAN was indicted at the assizes held at Kingston, in Surrey, in March 1749, for the murder of Sarah Green, on the 23rd of July preceding; when he was capitally convicted.
Mr Coleman had received a decent education, and was clerk to a brewer at the time the affair happened which cost him his life; and had a wife and several children, who were reduced to accept the bounty of the parish, in consequence of his conviction.
The murdered person was Sarah Green, who, having been with some acquaintances to a beanfeast in Kennington Lane, stayed to a late hour, and on her return towards Southwark she met with three men, who had the appearance of brewers' servants, two of whom used her in so inhuman a manner as will bear no description.
Such was the ill-treatment she had received that it was two o'clock in the morning before she was able to reach her lodgings, and on the following day was so ill that she informed several people how she had been treated; on which she was sent to St Thomas's Hospital.
While in the hospital she declared that the clerk in Taylor's (then Berry's) brew-house was one of the parties who had treated her in such an infamous manner; and it was supposed that Coleman was the person to whom she alluded.
Two days after the shocking transaction had happened, Coleman and one Daniel Trotman called at the Queen's Head ale-house, in Bandy-Leg Walk, when the latter was perfectly sober, but the former in a state of intoxication. Having called for some rum-and-water, Coleman was stirring it with a spoon when a stranger asked him what he had done with the pig -- meaning a pig that had been lately stolen in the neighbourhood. Coleman, unconscious of guilt, and conceiving himself affronted by such an impertinent question, said: "D--n the pig, what is it to me?"
The other, who seems to have had an intention to ensnare him, asked him if he did not know Kennington Lane. Coleman answered that he did, and added: "D--n ye, what of that?" The other then asked him if he knew the woman that had been so cruelly treated in Kennington Lane. Coleman replied: "Yes," and again said: "D--n ye, what of that?" The other man asked: "Was not you one of the parties concerned in that affair?" Coleman, who, as we have said, was intoxicated, and had no suspicion of design, replied: "If I had, you dog, what then?" -- and threw at him the spoon with which he was stirring the liquor. A violent quarrel ensued; but at length Coleman went away with Trotman.
On the following day, Coleman calling at the Queen'sHead above mentioned, the landlord informed him how imprudently he had acted the preceding day. Coleman, who had been too drunk to remember what had passed, asked if he had offended any person; on which the landlord informed him of what had happened, but the other, still conscious of his innocence, paid no regard to what he said.
On the 29th of August, Daniel Trotman and another man went before Mr Clarke, a magistrate in the Borough, and charged Coleman on suspicion of having violently assaulted and cruelly treated Sarah Green, in the Parsonage Walk, near Newington Church, in Surrey.
The magistrate, who does not seem to have supposed that Coleman was guilty, sent for him and hired a man to attend him to the hospital where the wounded woman lay; and pointing out Coleman, he asked her if he was one of the persons who had used her so cruelly. She said she believed he was, but, as she declined to swear positively to his having any concern in the affair, Justice Clarke admitted him to bail.
Some time afterwards Coleman was again taken before the magistrate, when, nothing positively being sworn against him, the justice would have absolutely discharged him, but Mr Wynne, the master of the injured girl, requesting that he might once more be taken to see her, a time was fixed for that purpose, and the justice took Coleman's word for his appearance.
The accused party came punctually to his time, bringing with him the landlord of an ale-house where Sarah Green had drunk on the night of the affair with the three men who really injured her; and this publican, and other people, declared on oath that Coleman was not one of the parties.
On the following day Justice Clarke went to the hospital to take the examination of the woman on oath. Having asked her if Coleman was one of the men who had injured her, she said she could not tell, as it was dark at the time; but, Coleman being called in, an oath was administered to her, when she swore that he was one of the three men that abused her.
Notwithstanding this oath, the justice, who thought the poor girl not in her right senses, and was convinced in his own mind of the innocence of Coleman, permitted him to depart on his promise of bringing bail the following day to answer the complaint at the next assizes for Surrey; and he brought his bail, and gave security accordingly.
Sarah Green dying in the hospital, the coroner's jury sat to inquire into the cause of her death; and, having found a verdict of wilful murder against Richard Coleman and two persons then unknown, a warrant was issued to take Coleman into custody.
Though this man was conscious of his innocence, yet such were his terrors at the idea of going to prison on such a charge that he absconded, and secreted himself at Pinner, near Harrow-on-the-Hill.
King George II. being then at Hanover, a proclamation was issued by the Lords of the Regency offering a reward of fifty pounds for the apprehension of the supposed offender; and to this the parish of St Saviour, Southwark, added a reward of twenty pounds.
Coleman read the advertisement for his apprehension in the Gazette, but was still so thoughtless as to conceal himself; though perhaps an immediate surrender would have been deemed the strongest testimony of his innocence. However, to assert his innocence, he caused the following advertisement to be printed in the newspaper:-- "I, Richard Coleman, seeing myself advertised in the Gazette as absconding on account of the murder of Sarah Green, knowing myself not any way culpable, do assert that I have not absconded from justice; but will willingly and readily appear at the next assizes, knowing that my innocence will acquit me."
Strict search being made after him, he was apprehended at Pinner, above mentioned, on the 22nd of November, and lodged in Newgate, whence he was removed to the New Jail, Southwark, till the time of the assizes at Kingston, in Surrey; when his conviction arose principally from the evidence of Trotman and the declaration of the dying woman.
Some persons positively swore that he was in another place at the time the fact was committed, but their evidence was not credited by the jury. After conviction Coleman behaved like one who was possessed of conscious innocence, and who had no fear of death for a crime which he had not committed.
He was attended at the place of execution by the Rev. Mr Wilson, to whom he delivered a paper in which he declared, in the most solemn and explicit manner, that he was altogether innocent of the crime alleged against him. He died with great resignation, lamenting only the distress in which he should leave a wife and children.
Note: This man's innocence was fully established in 1751, when James Welsh and Thomas Jones confessed that they committed the crime. See below.