Few subjects have excited greater complaint than the inconsistency of the English criminal code. A man is hanged for cutting or maiming, with intent to kill, because, say the commentators on the law, though the wounded man recovers, that is no palliation of the crime, for the offender deserves the same punishment as if the object of his attack had actually expired, the intention being the same. By analogy, this argument applies to those who falsely endeavour to swear away the life of a man; yet the most aggravated perjury is only punished with transportation, and in most cases with only fine and imprisonment, though an artful perjurer may as much endanger the life of an innocent man as the infuriated assassin, for circumstances may be such, in either case, as to preclude the possibility of defence. The case we are going to narrate will illustrate the foregoing remarks.
In the latter end of the year 1814, Anne Radford, a poor man's daughter, aged nineteen, accused her sweetheart, John Bird, a farmer's servant, of having murdered a rival of his, one Buckhill, a gentleman's servant, two years before. Bird was accordingly apprehended, and his accuser deposed as follows: -- That one evening, in the month of June, she and Bird were walking along the road, about eight o'clock, when they met Buckhill, whom Bird immediately attacked, knocked him down, cut his throat, and then dragged him into a neighbouring corn-field, where he buried him. The particulars she described with such apparent candour and minuteness, that it was impossible to suspect her story to be fabricated.
Bird was committed to Exeter gaol; and Anne Radford, not being able to procure bail to prosecute, was also sent to prison, there to be taken care of until the ensuing assizes.
The momentary wonder which this extraordinary charge excited having somewhat subsided, the sober part of the people began to reflect on its improbability. The publicity of the place where the alleged murder was committed, the early hour at which it took place, and the silence which attended the transaction, no one having ever heard of any such murder in the neighbourhood, seemed to attach falsehood to the charge, and throw discredit on the accuser's story. But then the circumstantial manner in which she described the deed, and the absence of any inducement to prompt her to fabricate so atrocious a statement, as well as the fact of Buckhill not having been since seen in the neighbourhood, were considered corroborating proofs of the truth of her charge, which she alleged having made to rid her conscience of an intolerable burden that pressed heavily upon it during the last two years.
The magistrates had her brought to the field where she stated Buck-bill to have been buried, and had the place dug up where she described the body to have been deposited; but, though the utmost diligence was used, nothing was found to lead to a supposition that any such interment had taken place.
In the mean time it was confidently reported that Buckhill was still alive; and Bird's master, whose humane and praiseworthy exertions merit the highest eulogium, went in search of him. Having travelled seven hundred miles, he at length found the object of his pursuit, who had just returned from France, where he had been with Lord Beauchamp's family during the two years preceding.
To save a fellow-creature from ignominy and death, Buckhill hastened to Exeter, where the assizes were about to be held; and, on Radford hearing of his presence, she declared her whole story was a falsehood, though up to that moment she persisted in her wicked allegations.
When Bird was arraigned at Exeter, January the 16th, 1815, in a most crowded court, the Recorder asked Radford what she had to say: she replied, 'Nothing, sir; I am guilty:' upon which Bird was discharged, and a bill of indictment was then presented to the grand jury, and found against Anne Radford, for wilful and corrupt perjury. She was immediately put upon her trial, and said, 'Though I know I am guilty, I am advised to plead Not Guilty.'
Her affidavit having been read, Buckhill, the man stated to have been murdered, was called. He deposed that he never knew Bird, and consequently that he could not have had any quarrel with him. About two years before he was in the habit of privately visiting the prisoner in her father's garden, during the eleven days which he stopped in the country, since which time he knew nothing of her.
Bird having also been called, and his evidence gone through, the jury, without hesitation, found the prisoner Guilty, and she was sentenced to seven years' transportation.
Were it not for the zeal of Bird's master in finding Buckhill, the circumstantial and minute evidence of this wicked girl would in all probability have convicted him of murder. What a lesson for jurors!