Executed for the dreadful murder of a child, at Leeds, 1819
THE trial of this case at the Kingston Lent Assizes in 1819, excited universal interest, and attracted immense crowds at an early hour of the morning to gain admittance to the court, but not one-twentieth part of the anxious throng could find accommodation.
The circumstances of this singular transaction were as follows:-- On Friday evening, the 16th of October 1818, between six and seven o'clock, Robert Dean, who was a watch engraver, went, as he had been in the habit of doing, to visit the mother of the child, who lived near the Elephant and Castle, St. George's-fields, and she asked him to take tea; while he was there he nursed and played with the child until about six or seven o'clock, when he went away with Mrs. Albert's brother, Williams, who had been his fellow apprentice. They proceeded as far as the Obelisk, when they separated, and the prisoner returned and took the child again into his lap, and put his hand in his pocket to get some halfpence, saying he would go and buy some apples for his little Mary; he then took the child up in his arm, and asked her if she would have an apple, and many other trifling questions, such as, Do you love me? Do you know who I am? &c. He then went out with the child, but being absent rather long, and the mother feeling alarmed, went out to see after them, and on going into a court near the house, she met the child, who reeled towards her, and on her taking her in her arms the blood gushed from her throat, and the child appeared as if she was expiring; a surgeon was sent for, but his efforts were fruitless, and in about an hour it died. The prisoner wandered about for three or four days, and although every diligence was used to find him, it was unsuccessful. At length on the morning of the Tuesday following, at about five o'clock, he rapped at the door of the watch-house of St. Andrew, Holborn, and said his name was Dean, and that he was the murderer. He was of course detained, and taken to Giltspur-street Compter.
Mrs. Mary Albert, the mother of the little girl, was examined in support of the statement. When she beheld the prisoner at the bar, she burst into an hysteric scream of horror, and was for a long time incapable of giving her evidence, until she was relieved by a flood of tears. The prisoner seemed evidently affected by the agony in which she appeared to be. On her cross-examination she gave a very favourable representation of the temper and disposition of the prisoner, and that he was extremely fond of children, and particularly of the unfortunate infant who had lost her life by his act. On the evening in question, she observed the prisoner to be very uneasy in his mind, on account of his want of employment, but he spoke in a rational and collected manner.
Mrs. Sarah Williams, the mother of the last witness, on her cross-examination described the conduct of the prisoner, on the evening in question as indicative of an uneasy mind, arising from his distressed circumstances. She gave the prisoner the highest character for kindness to her grand-daughter, and said that he had always been on the most friendly terms with her family.
Joseph Williams, the brother of Mrs. Albert, deposed to the circumstances connected with the above outline of the case. On his cross-examination, he said he had been fellow-apprentice with the prisoner, who had always conducted himself in the most friendly manner towards him and his family. Witness and the prisoner had lodged together for a long time; he knew the prisoner was unhappy in his mind on account of a young woman with whom he had kept company, but whose father had forbidden any further intercourse.
Joseph Myatt, the watchhouse-keeper of the parish of St. Andrew, Holborn, proved, that early on the morning of the 20th of October, the prisoner surrendered himself to justice at the watch-house. He appeared in a state of great agitation, stating that he had been induced to surrender himself, in con sequence of his having heard a sermon at the Tabernacle, in Moorfields; that he had wandered about ever since the commission of the horrid deed, and was unable to hold out any longer. When the prisoner was afterwards taken to Giltspur-street Compter, he begged that he might be allowed a Bible. The witness's description of Dean's demeanour at the watch-house was strongly indicative of remorse, but of sound intellect. John May, a police officer of Union-hall, proved that he removed the prisoner from Giltspur-street Compter, and by the direction of the magistrate of Union-hall, took him on the 20th of October before the coroner's inquest, which was then sitting on the body of the deceased child. When they got to the place of sitting, the prisoner requested to speak with the witness in private; and being left alone, witness, at the prisoner's request, took down the following statement in writing, as he gave it in his own words:-"On Friday evening last I met a young man named Joseph Williams, with whom I had long been intimate, at Mrs. Albert's house, in Jacques-court, Thomas-street. I had long been acquainted with a young woman named Sarah Longman, daughter of Mr. L. at the Grapes, Church-row, Aldgate; my affection for her was extremely great; I had for some time corresponded with her. A dispute unhappily arose; I wrote to her upon the subject, expressing my regret at the unfortunate rupture, described the very great regard which I entertained for her, implored her to consent to a reconciliation, and begged that she would write me an early answer. She never replied to my letter. Her father called upon me, and wished that the connexion might be discontinued. These circumstances had an indescribable effect upon my mind; I was miserably unhappy, was incapable of attending to any business, and gave myself entirely up to despair. I endeavoured to prevail upon her to renew the correspondence. I felt that I could not be happy in this world without her, and determined to leave it. Thoughts of a dreadful description entered my mind, and must have proceeded from the Devil. I felt that I should leave the world in a state of happiness, if I could murder her, and determined to perpetrate the deed. I had been from home two days, business not being very brisk, and on Friday evening I called to see Williams, at Mrs. Albert's and we both came out together and walked in company as far as the Surrey Theatre. We did not go in; I told Williams that I wanted to see a gentleman in the Borough, and should go that way. We parted, and I returned to Mrs; Albert's. After talking in a very friendly manner with the family, I asked for a knife, and they, supposing that I wanted to cut some bread, gave me a case knife. I took an opportunity of concealing it unperceived in my pocket. I shortly after went out with the child to buy her some apples, which having done, I returned to the court. A sudden thought came over my mind, that if I murdered the child, who was innocent, I should not commit so great a crime as in murdering Sarah Longman, who was older, and, as I imagined, had sins to answer for. In a moment I pulled the knife out of my pocket, put the child down out of my arms, held her head back, and cut her little throat. In an instant I imagined that I was in the midst of flaming fire, and the court appeared to me like the entrance of hell. I ran away, not knowing where I went or what I did; I wandered about in a state of distraction until I surrendered myself up at the watch-house."
The prisoner, who, during the course of the evidence above-mentioned, appeared to be in a kind of idiotic stupor, being called upon to make his defence, merely said in a wild manner, that he was not guilty.
A great many witnesses were then examined on his behalf to prove a case of insanity. Among others were, James Longman, the father of the young woman to whom the prisoner had been attached; George Cass, a watch-motion-maker; Ann Keys, Eliza Campbell, and Maria Tyrrell, persons with whom the prisoner had lodged; and the tendency of their evidence was to show that the prisoner, a few weeks previously to the unfortunate transaction in question, had been flighty and low-spirited, in consequence of his want of employment, and having been forbidden the continuance of his addresses to the young woman, Miss Longman.
The Jury found the prisoner, Guilty, and Mr. Justice Park pronounced sentence of death in an impressive and pathetic manner; but during this last awful stage of the proceedings, the prisoner exhibited a maniac apathy to the doom that awaited him, and he was removed from the bar in a state of mental abstraction.
When the morning arrived on which the wretched culprit was doomed to pay the dreadful forfeit of his crime, an immense multitude was collected to witness the execution. The unfortunate man had been at prayer, with slight intermission, from the period of his apprehension. It was needless to recommend devotion to him. He had been visited by Lord Rocksavage and Mr. Sinclair, both of whom prayed with him, and expressed much gratitude at their kindness. "They came," said he, "with Christian feeling to visit the poor wretch in his dungeon." Mr. Mann, the chaplain, had much conversation with him.
Dean regretted that as he was going to a place where there was no gnashing of teeth, he had it not in his power to take with him his beloved Sarah, who was now exposed to a wicked world. The chaplain endeavoured to induce him to speak of the little girl whose life he had taken away, and told him she would meet him in a better world. "No doubt," said he, "Christ, who is now saving my soul, is waiting for me; but I am sorry for poor Sarah, she is in a dangerous world." Mr. Mann rejoiced to see him so full of penitence, and told him with what happiness his friends would hear that not a wish of escape from punishment had passed his lips, nor a murmur of complaint. "Why should I complain," said he, "knowing as I do that the change I am going to make is for the better? Where is Voltaire now? -- in hell: where is Tom Paine? -- in hell: God have mercy upon them as he has upon me."
His general appearance was that of a maniac, but on all subjects he spoke rationally, although often incoherently. After the sacrament had been administered to him, he appeared impatient to leave the world, and asked whether every thing was not in readiness for his journey: on being told by Mr. Mann that some time was to be allowed for preparation, "Preparation!" said he, "who can say I want preparation? -- never was man more ready to die." Mr. Mann having observed that the preparation of the body, not of the soul, was what he meant, Dean smiled -- "Oh!" said he, "I shall then soon be going." He refused to stand up while any part of the ceremony in the chapel was performing, and he frequently prayed aloud, and with the greatest fervour.
When the officers were striking off his irons, he looked wildly about, and at last fixing his eyes on the gallows, he bent towards it, and then gazed at the sky. The name of God was in his mouth, when he reached the platform. He then said, "God bless you all!" and prayed in so loud a tone as to be heard by the crowd around the prison. At nine o'clock the drop fell, and he died after a severe struggle.