A Captain in the Royal Marines, convicted of stealing a Piece of Muslin from a Shopkeeper at Taunton, 13th of November, 1810
AT the assizes held on the 13th of November, 1810, for the county of Somerset, before Sir Soulden Laurence, Captain John Davison, of the Royal Marines, was indicted for stealing a piece of muslin, of the value of thirty shillings, the property of James Bunter, mercer, of Taunton.
Mr Gazelee opened the indictment.
Mr Jeryle then stated the circumstance of the case to the jury, and observed he had seldom, in the discharge of his professional duty, a more painful task to perform than to detail the evidence which he had to adduce, in order to substantiate the charge in the indictment, which charged the prisoner with the crime of felony. The facts were few, short, but cogent, and, he feared, irresistible. They would come better from the witnesses than from any statement of his. He would proceed to call them.
The first witness was Alexander Baller, who said: "I am an apprentice to Mr James Bunter, of Taunton. I know Captain Davison, He came to my master's house on the 25th of July, at half-past seven in the morning; there was no one in the shop but myself; he asked if Mr Bunter was up. I told him he was, and on that he went away. Mr Bunter came into the shop in about five minutes, and, on seeing someone go by with whom he wished to speak, walked out towards the parade. Captain Davison came in again immediately after. I was cleaning the windows on the outside of the shop. On Captain Davison's again going into the shop I followed him. He asked to look at the muslins he had seen the night before, and walked to the lower end of the shop to the counter on the right hand, and I carried to him ten or twelve pieces as he was sitting on the counter. He took the first I showed him in his hand, and very carelessly laid it by his side, and he did the same with some other pieces. After looking at them some time he went towards the door; but, before that, he had thrown his handkerchief upon four or five of the pieces, which he had folded up. When at the door he asked me how the handkerchief he had on looked, and whether we had any of the same. I told him we had none of them. He asked me for a looking-glass. I told him we had none but what was fixed, but if he would walk into the parlour he might see there; to this he made no reply. He then sat down in a chair rather below where the muslin was, and asked to look at some stockings at about five shillings a pair, for his brother; before this I had taken away the pieces of muslin that were not covered over. There was at this time a piece under his handkerchief, which I could plainly perceive. I took him out some stockings from the opposite side of the shop, but kept my eyes on him, and I observed him draw his handkerchief from the counter into his lap with both his hands. I observed the muslin was still under the handkerchief as he drew it towards him. He then asked for some fashionable waistcoat patterns; I went across to the other counter to get him some. My face was towards him, and I observed him take up the handkerchief and squeeze it together, and put it under the left lapel of his coat; he took the patterns of the waistcoats, as he said he wished to show them first to Yandell, his tailor. At this time his arm was over his coat towards his lapel where he had put his handkerchief, and he walked out of the shop. Mr Bunter came into the shop whilst Captain Davison was there, but stayed only two or three minutes. I missed the first piece of muslin I had showed him immediately after his going out. It was marked with 'O/G S/R'; the 'S' had been altered, it had been an 'I'. When I missed the muslin I rang the bell, and Mr Bunter came. I described to him what had happened and the particular piece which was missing, and that Captain Davison was gone to Yandell's. Mr Bunter left the shop to go to Yandell's through Hammet Street; I then went out and saw Captain Davison standing at Mr Bluett's shop door. When I perceived Captain Davison was not gone to Yandell's I called to Mr Bunter aloud, and Davison walked by the market-house towards his own lodgings. At the time I showed Captain Davison the first piece I took notice of the mark."
Cross-examined by Mr Serjeant Pell: "I had seen the piece of muslin lost the preceding evening. Captain Davison had purchased a yard of ribbon the day before. On my calling to Mr Bunter, Captain Davison retired from Mr Bluett's shop."
Charles Sutton, constable of Taunton, said "I went, in company with another constable, to search the house of Mr Owen; we first went into a bedchamber, and then into a drawing-room. Captain Davison was not there. In the chamber there was a trunk with Captain Davison's name on it, on a brass plate; we broke it open, and found in it this piece of muslin."
Alexander Baller identified the piece of muslin to be the one lost, and that it was Bunter's property.
Mr Bunter said: "The marks on the muslin are my writing, the muslin is my property, and worth more than thirty shillings. In ten minutes after the search the muslin was brought to me, and I knew it."
Alexander Baller, called again, said he had never sold that piece.
Here the evidence for the prosecution closed.
Colonel Mears, T. Woodford, Esq., Surgeon Bryant, R. Morgan, Esq., Rev. Mr Townsend, Rev. F. H. Clapp, H. C. Standart, Esq., and the Rev. D. Webber, all of whom were persons of the first respectability, and who had known the prisoner nearly two years, severally gave him an excellent character.
The judge then summed up the evidence, and told the jury that, however they might lament that a gentleman of the prisoner's condition in life, holding the rank of a Captain in the Royal Marines, and who had borne so high and honourable a character till the present time, should on the present occasion have forfeited that character, and have forgotten his situation, it was their duty, if they were satisfied with the evidence they had heard, to find him guilty, however painful the discharge of that duty might be. Character, in cases where a fair doubt could be entertained, ought to have considerable weight with a jury. But on the contrary, where the facts were clear, and established by credible witnesses, however good the character of the prisoner might have been up to the time of committing the felony, it was no excuse for the commission of it. And unless they could say that the prisoner, at the time of drawing the handkerchief from the counter with both his hands, as the witness Baller stated, was ignorant that the muslin was contained in it, he did not know how to state to them a ground of doubt. The muslin, as they saw, was of considerable bulk, and not likely to be contained in a silk handkerchief without its being perceived by the prisoner, and if they thought so, it was their duty to say that he was guilty.
The jury, after a few seconds' consideration, returned a verdict of guilty. Sentence -- transportation.