One of a desperate Gang of Thieves and Ruffians, executed for a brutal Assault (with intent to Murder), committed on Sarah Drew, in Hackney Fields
THE following case is no less remarkable for the ferocity of the assault, having for its object the murder of an individual who was expected to become a witness against a member of a well-known gang of burglars, than for the pertinacity with which an alibi was falsely sworn to, and attempted to be maintained. The trial took place at the Old Bailey, in October, 1824, and the particulars are detailed in the testimony of the following witnesses.
Sarah Drew, a servant in the family of Mr. W. Hale, a silk manufacturer in Wood-street, Spitalfields: 'His house was robbed on Monday, the 27th of September. Previously to the commission of the robbery, I saw a person about the premises; and after the robbery, I told the police-officers that I should know that person again if I happened to see him. In consequence of my saying so, I received instructions from the officers, if I ever saw him again, to follow him wherever he went. On Wednesday, the 29th, two days after the robbery was committed, I accompanied Handley and Hatfield, two officers belonging to the police-office in Worship-street, to a piece of ground, where I saw a great many men gambling, and tossing up halfpence. Whilst I was with them in that place, I saw one of the officers go up to the prisoner, place his hand upon his shoulder, and say something to him, which I did not hear. I told them that he was not the person whom I had seen in my master's house. On the Sunday following, I went to Shoreditch church to hear a charity Sermon, at half-past two, and left the church soon after five o'clock. I had in my pocket a five-shilling piece, two half-crowns, eight shillings, and one sixpence. I gave away a shilling in the church to the charity for which they were begging. I had also an umbrella and a shawl. As I came out of church, I saw the man who came into my master's house on the day that it was robbed, leaning on the outside of the church-rails. In consequence of what I had been desired to do by the officers, I followed him; he went down the Hackney-road; then up a turning, then over a field, then over the canal, then up a turning, then again over the canal, up another turning, which took me into Hackney-fields. At this time it was daylight, and I had never lost sight of the man I was following. When I got into Hackney-fields, the prisoner came behind me, took me by the arm, and asked me if I knew him. I looked at him, and said, "I do not know you, Sir." I knew him all the time, but from fear I said that I did not. He was the man with whom I had seen the officers conversing on the Wednesday. The prisoner made a beckon, and another man immediately came up.'
Here the witness was much agitated, and burst into tears. Mr. Justice Park desired her to be composed, as nobody would harm her in that court.
'That man seized me by my other arm. The prisoner told that man to put his hand on my mouth, to prevent my hallooing. The man did so. During the time that this was doing, the man whom I had been following continued to walk onwards. The prisoner, after he had compelled me to walk a yard or two further with him, crammed some hay into my mouth, and said to the other man, "Now, hold your hand over this." The man did so. Then the man whom I had been following, when he saw that the other two had hold of my arms, crossed over to them and said "Oh d--n her, make her take off her pattens, that she may go on the faster." I accordingly put them off with my feet, and left them. They then walked me along to the end of the field as fast as they could, keeping hold of me all the time. During that time the prisoner said nothing. We then went down a lane with a hedge on each side. That lane leads to a pond. The prisoner still said nothing; but the man whom I had first followed said, "Oh d--n her, drag her down faster." When we came to the pond, the prisoner took off my shawl and forced my umbrella from me. He then pulled out of his pocket a rope, nearly a yard and a half long. He then said, "I'll hang her; she cannot swear against us then." The other man, who had hold of my arm, then said, "Search her, and see what she has got." He did search me, and he took out of my pocket my purse, with the money it contained. He then put it into his left-hand waistcoat-pocket. I saw him do it. At the same time he said, "D--n the b--rs, they cannot swear to money." The man whom I had followed then gave me a blow on the left breast over the heart, and I fell with my back against a rail, on one side of the pond. The prisoner then took hold of me by the shoulders, and the man who had held my other arm took hold of me by the feet, raised me up, and flung me over the rail with great force. I fell upon a bank first, and then rolled into the pond.
'There was a good deal of water in the pond. All my body was in it, but my head was out. The man whom I had first followed said, "D--n her, poke her under the water." The prisoner replied; "Oh no! she will never rise any more." Whilst I was in the water I heard some of the parties speak. I heard one of them, I can't say which, asking whether my shawl was all silk.'
The poor girl was again overcome by the recollection of the danger which she had undergone, burst into tears, and could not proceed for some minutes. On recovering herself, she continued.
'Another of them said it was made of hard silk. One of them afterwards said, but I cannot tell which, "We won't have any thing belonging to her -- there may be marks on it." After that, the prisoner came to the rail, and after saying "Here goes," flung the umbrella and shawl into the pond. I then heard one of them ask the other how much money he had. He said, "I have got 17s. 6d., and now she is gone, we will go to the White Horse, at Hackney, and regale ourselves." They then went away. I remained in the pond sometime after I had ceased to hear their voices, lest they should come back and poke me in again. I then crept out of it. Shortly afterwards I heard two men talking. I put up my head to see who they were. Seeing that they were not those who had so ill-treated me, I asked for help, and they assisted me over the rail. I was wet and muddy up to my neck. I asked them to take me home to my father's: they said, "No, I had better go to the alehouse at the end of the field." The landlord got me a coach, and I went in it to the police-office is Worship-street.'
John Bradshaw, a labourer in the service of the East India Company, sworn. 'About 10 minutes after six o'clock on the evening of the 3rd of October, I was going across Hackney fields with Mr. Jamieson Field. At that time it was just getting dark. When we came opposite the pond, I heard a person calling out, as if in distress. The voice was that of a female. She said "For God's sake, give me assistance, for I have been robbed by two men, and thrown into a pond." Mr. Jamieson Field, who was with me, jumped over the rail, and assisted her up. It was Mrs. Drew, the prosecutrix. She was in a dreadful state, covered with mud, and wet up to the neck. We took her to the Cat and Shoulder of Mutton public-house."
Mr Jamieson Field deposed to the same effect as it preceding witness.
Charles Rogers. "I keep the Cat and Shoulder of Mutton in Hackney-fields. On Sunday, the 3rd of October, the prosecutrix was brought to my house between 10 and 25 minutes past six o'clock, by Field and Bradshaw. She complained of having been robbed, and flung into a pond. I procured a coach, and ordered it by her desire to drive to the police-office in Worship-street."
William Hatfield: "I am a police-officer belonging to the office in Worship-street. On the 29th of September last, I and my brother officer, Handley, accompanied the prosecutrix to a waste piece of ground belonging to a public-house at the back of Wentworth-street, called "Black Hell." I took the prosecutrix there to see whether she could identify any person as the man whom she had seen on her master's premises at the time of their being robbed. There were about thirty or forty persons when I took her there. The prisoner was among them. I went up to him, put my hand upon his shoulder and said -- "Ah, Kiddy, what brings you here?" I am sure that she observed me do so. The prosecutrix did not recognise any man there as the person whom she had seen in her master's entry. We went from that place to the City of Norwich public-house, in Wentworth-street, for the same purpose as we had been to the Black Hell. In consequence of something we learned there, we went back to the Black Hell. The second time we went, we stayed some time, as I went round the place to look all the men in the face. The prosecutrix did not fix on any man there. This was on the Wednesday after the robbery. I saw the prosecutrix again, on Sunday night, about half-past seven o'clock, at the house of Mr. Garton, the Chief Constable of Worship-street office. She told me she had been robbed by three persons, and gave me information which led us to apprehend the prisoner at the bar."
Handley, another officer at Worship-street, corroborated the statement of the last witness in all its material points, and proved that the prosecutrix must have seen the prisoner both the times he took her to the Black Hell.
Vann, another police-officer, produced a rope, which he had received from a person of the name of Stretton.
John Stretton: "I am a gardener in the neighbourhood of Hackney-fields. On the 20th October last, I had occasion to prune some black-currant trees in my garden, which is only eight yards from the pathway through Hackney-fields, and not more than sixty or seventy yards from the pond. In pruning these trees, I found a rope. About three weeks or a month before, I had cut down these same trees, and at that time there was no rope among them. I carried it to the office in Worship-street, and gave it up to the officer."
Thomas Ganon. "I am chief constable in Worship-street office. I received a rope from John Stretton. I took that rope with me to the prosecutrix. I asked her to describe the rope with which the prisoner at the bar had threatened to hang her before I produced it. She did so. The rope agreed with her description in every point except that she said she thought it was only unplatted at one end, and it was in fact unplatted at both."
Edward Wood: "I am a cow-keeper at Dalston. On Sunday night, October the 3rd, about 25 minutes past six o'clock, I was in Hackney-fields. I picked up a pair of pattens, beside the footpath leading from the Dalston end of it to the Cat and Shoulder of Mutton. They were close together, about 240 yards from the pond; I delivered them to the officers, one to each."
The prisoner being called upon for his defence, said that he should leave it entirely to his counsel. On the day when this woman said she was robbed, he was ill at home in bed.
Mr. Andrews called the following witnesses on the part of the defence:--
Elizabeth Harris: "The man at the bar is my father. He lived in October last in George-street, near Hanbury's brewhouse. I have a mother, a brother, and a sister. My sister and I do not live at home, but with a Mrs. Walker. I heard of my father being taken up on a Monday morning. On the Sunday before I had gone to Mr. Marshall's, in George-street, a few minutes before 6 o'clock, to buy some apples. Mr. Marshall lives on the opposite side of the way to my father, three or four doors lower down the street. I saw my father in his shirt-sleeves, leaning out of the window, with his hand on the rails before it."
Cross-examined: "I had been walking out by myself on that Sunday, from half-past two o'clock to five minutes before six. I went to Spitalfields church, stayed there an hour and a half, then walked round Shoredith, up Bethnal-green-road, and down Whitechapel. I did not go home then, but walked past my father's windows. I did not call on my father, though I had not seen him for two or three days. The church was done about half-past four o'clock. The prayers were over at the time I entered; they were preaching all the time I was there."
Re-examined: "The clergyman who preached was dressed in white. I cannot write. I do not know figures, but I can tell what o'clock it is. [The learned Judge here asked her to tell him the hour by the clock in court -- the witness did so.] I cannot tell what the sermon was on that day. In general my father goes to bed on a Sunday afternoon. He was not in bad health on that Sunday to my knowledge."
Richard Marshall proved that Elizabeth Harris had bought some apples of him on the Sunday afternoon in question, about 6 o'clock. He did not see her father at the window.
Edward Harris, a boy of eleven years of age, and a son of the prisoner was then put into the witness-box. Before he was sworn, he was examined by the Judge as to his knowledge of the nature of an oath. The Judge having allowed him to be sworn, he deposed as follows: "I remember my father being taken away by the officers on a Monday morning. On the Sunday before, my father was very bad in health. He laid down after dinner. My mother bade me go to chapel. I went by myself to the chapel at the cornet of Wood-street. The service was then begun. The parson had on a black gown. I returned from the chapel between 5 and 6 o'clock. My father was then at home, and at tea. After tea my father sat by the fire till eight o'clock, when I went to bed. I knew the hour from hearing Hanbury's clock strike. From the time I came from chapel to the hour I went to bed, my father was never out of the room. He was in his shirt-sleeves all the time."
Examined by Mr. JUSTICE PARR.-"My father generally gets up at ten o'clock of a Sunday, then dresses, gets his dinner, goes out, comes back, and then takes his tea, and goes to bed. I never knew my father to go to bed on a Sunday afternoon before."
Anne Harris, daughter of the prisoner, in the service of Mrs. Walker, was at home on the Sunday in question, at three o'clock in the afternoon. She left her father there with his coat off, lying asleep on the bed; took a long walk, and returned between nine and ten o'clock, and found him still at home. He was often ill, and always lay down of a Sunday afternoon.
Thomas Yardly lives opposite the house where Harris resided; did not know him; had never drank with him; had heard of him as a noted character -- as a boxing man. Witness had seen a man standing at Harris's window at about half-past six o'clock on the evening of the Sunday in question; had called his wife and his apprentice Norwood to observe Harris, who was the man at the window, as witness believed, but he would not swear to it. The man was in his waistcoat, and looked as if he had just come off the bed. Heard that Harris was taken up, and went to Newgate to see if it was the same.
Mrs. Yardly recollected her husband calling her to the window to observe "Kiddy Harris," with whom his brother had had a fight. [In this she was confirmed by Norwood, the apprentice, but neither of them would swear that Harris was the man whom they saw at the window, though each of them believed so.]
Three witnesses who were in the room under Harris's, deposed that they had seen him at half-past five o'clock. The door opened into the passage, but it was shut, so that if Harris had gone out they might not have heard him, and would not have seen him. -- This was the defence.
Mr. JUSTICE PARK expounded the evidence, showing the agreements and contradictions with great particularity.
The Jury returned a verdict of -- Guilty.
The prisoner said, with perfect composure, "My Lord, I'm quite satisfied with my trial; but I'm an innocent man, upon my word I am."
Although the prisoner had totally failed in his attempt to prove an alibi, yet he persisted in asserting his innocence, and strong representations were made in his behalf to the Secretary of State; few cases have perhaps undergone more investigation and scrutiny than that of this systematic depredator. The Magistrates of Worship-street Office were directed to pay most particular attention to the circumstances of the case. One of them, Mr. Osborne, went to the pond in Hackney-fields, into which the young woman was thrown, accompanied by an intelligent gentleman of that district, who had for a long time been actively useful in suppressing crime. They both minutely noticed every circumstance of time and place alluded to on the trial. The Recorder of London also, much to his credit, took the trouble of going in company with the gentlemen alluded to, to Spitalfields, for the purpose of viewing the relative situation of Harris's house, and that of the witness who appeared on his behalf, and also to make inquiries connected with the affair; but the impression produced in the minds of these gentlemen, after all they saw and heard, was decidedly unfavourable to the prisoner; and after having been respited from time to time for several months during the inquiry, he was at length ordered for execution on the 22nd of February, 1825.
His conduct on this awful occasion was a strange mixture of the coward, the ruffian, and the flash-man, and affords another awful instance of the innate depravity of mankind, hardened in crime by a total absence of religion and Christian feeling.
On the arrival of the Sheriffs, about a quarter before eight o'clock, Harris was asked if he was prepared to go to the press room? He said, "You may take me there, and you may drag me to the gallows, but I shall be murdered."
Soon after the Sheriffs and Under Sheriffs proceeded to the room into which culprits are usually brought to be pinioned. Two other culprits, who underwent the awful sentence of the law at the same time as Harris, had already been pinioned, and the latter being ordered to be brought forth was heard at some distance in the dark passage adjoining the press-room, talking loudly in a tone of remonstrance to the gaolers, and the moment he entered the room, and saw the Sheriffs, &c., he exclaimed -- "Oh the villains, the villains, to hang an innocent man! I know nothing about it; if I did I'd tell -- Murder, murder! -- Indeed, Mr. Sheriff, you are going to hang a man that is entirely innocent -- what bad laws are ours to hang an innocent man! by G-d, I'm innocent of the charge!"
Mr. Sheriff Brown attempted to soothe the irritated feelings of the culprit, by reminding him that he (the Sheriff) could not do any thing for him more than he had done, except direct his attention to that state upon which he was about to enter. This, however, had no effect. Harris continued talking very fast, and appealed in a coarse and confident manner to every one around him. "Gentlemen, is not this too bad? I am innocent -- I know nothing of it at all -- is not this a disgrace to the country? D--n their eyes, what do they hang me for?" The Sheriff, in vain, begged him to think of his situation, and, for the few moments he had to live, to look to Jesus Christ for help. During this time his hands were tied. When the officer came up to him for that purpose, he said, "You will do as you like with me -- I suppose you will do it!" When the officer was in the act of tying the cord round his wrists, he said, "You need not hurt me more than is necessary." Then turning his face towards the persons present connected with the press, and looking most steadfastly at two or three that were nearest to him, he said, "Oh Gentlemen, tell them (meaning the public) that I die innocent; I am murdered; I am, so help me God! as I am a dying man. I know I have been a wicked man, and a fighting man, and all that, but of this I am innocent. Is not this a shame, to keep a man five months in gaol, and then to bring him out and hang him!" He then dropped on his knees before Mr. Sheriff Brown and others, who were around him, and lifting up his hands, and looking upwards, once more said, "Of this I am innocent, and may I endure everlasting torments, if what I am saying is not true!" again appealing to the Almighty. All being ready, he was lifted up, and turning sharply round, in a natural quick tone said, "But where are my fellow-sufferers?" The Sheriffs removed from their position, which had prevented him from seeing them sitting on the opposite side of the room, and he said, "Oh! here they are -- God bless you! I am wonder fully supported -- it is nothing but downright murder! Oh! may God forgive you; -- I suppose somebody did it. So help me Heaven, I don't know who did it!"
The three criminals were placed in order, to walk towards the scaffold. Approaching the door of the room Harris turned round again, and said, "Where's the boatswain (an officer of the ward, wherein he had been confined) -- Oh! here he is; -- come, old boy, let's shake hands (they did so) -- God bless you!"
All being thus arranged, with slow pace they moved forwards. The moment Harris set his foot in the first passage, he cried out "Murder, murder, murder, murder!" until the recesses of the dismal abode re-echoed. The voice of the Reverend Divine could not for some time be heard while reading the burial service. When the bell first tolled he was a little more calm.
During the time the executioner was performing his duty, Harris continued talking to those around, and protesting his innocence, declared it was a plant, because he had been before transported, and that it was the doing of some wicked wretch, and spoke of the woman who was the witness against him.
Just before he was led up the stairs of the scaffold, he said, "I suppose they will not let me speak to the crowd, but I will, if possible. I will shout loud enough, that I am murdered -- murdered." On being informed that all was prepared, he ascended the scaffold. He was very ill prepared to meet the awful transition. The moment he went out on the drop be recommenced his exclamations of "Murder! murder! I am murdered! I am murdered!" until the cap was drawn over his eyes; and in a few seconds the drop fell, and closed this world for ever on him.