IT was a maxim amongst the Romans, that no law should exist against persons guilty of parricide, upon the principle that such a crime could not exist. It might also be a maxim in the English law that no punishment should be assigned to those who were guilty of incest, upon the presumption that nature could not be so grievously violated. Some persons, however, in the shape of human beings, have been found so depraved and infamous as to trample upon the laws of God and nature. But we don't know if the long catalogue of crime exhibits a more abominable wretch than James Wilson, who, at the age of sixty, was convicted of attempting to commit a rape on his own daughter.
This hoary sinner was a watchcase maker, and resided in Northampton Row, Clerkenwell. In 1819 his wife died, leaving two daughters and a son; the age of the eldest girl, named Sarah, not being, at the time, more than fifteen years. She was a most interesting girl, and was serving her apprenticeship to the dress-making business. The unnatural father, abandoning the powerful suggestions of nature, began, soon after his wife's death, to take indecent liberties with his daughters, but particularly the eldest, who was four years older than her sister. In the room where they slept were two beds, and it was the constant practice of the incestuous brute to get into the bed of his children and strive to accomplish his revolting purpose. Happily they were successful in resisting the base attack; and he only desisted from persecuting them when they threatened to expose him. At such times he would protest most solemnly to annoy them no more; but, notwithstanding, in a few days he would repeat the offence, soliciting Sarah, like a lover, to submit to his embraces. The villain seemed as anxious to pervert their minds as to debase their bodies; for when his eldest girl used to reproach him for his unnatural conduct, he told her it was the tyrant laws of custom, and not those of nature, which bound her to resist. When repelled, as he always was, his conduct was most cruel. Sometimes, in resisting his violence, she had swooned away; but always succeeded in thwarting his revolting designs. Frequently did the poor girl implore him on her knees, to desist, remonstrating with him, that his conduct was unnatural, but he only laughed, telling her the Almighty saw no harm in it, and to obey his inclinations was no crime.
As the eldest girl grew up, not liking to ruin her father by an exposure, she quitted him and went to service, leaving him ignorant of her place of residence. He found her out, however, and prevailed on her to return home, invoking Heaven that his arms might drop off if ever he would attempt to molest her again. The poor girl suffered herself to be prevailed on, and she went home, but had not been long there, when he renewed his base attempts. On the 17th of December, 1823, he threw her on the floor, and was proceeding to the most indecent liberties, when she resisted, scratched his face, and cried out for help, on which he desisted for that time; but in a day or two resorted again to the same offence.
By this time Mr. and Mrs. Smith, in whose house Wilson lodged, became acquainted with his conduct; they questioned the poor girls, for both had been similarly prosecuted; and, having heard the tale of their sufferings, took lodgings for them, unknown to their father, and when they got Wilson out of their house brought them back, and treated them with the utmost kindness; for their situation and virtues had endeared them to all who knew them.
The enraged monster of a parent, dreading the consequence of exposure, which it was natural for him now to expect, issued the following hand-bill, evidently for the purpose of cloaking his infamy:
'Left their home, two girls, the eldest between eighteen and nineteen, and the youngest about fourteen. There is little doubt but that they have been enticed away from their home and duty by wicked advisers, the eldest having absented herself once before to associate with the basest of mankind, who spend their time in wickedness and drunkenness. She is capable of the basest insinuations, even to disgrace her father, who has from her infancy worked hard to support her.' The bill then went on to describe the dress of the fugitives, and threatened to punish whoever should harbour them after this notification.
Mr. Smith, under whose protection the girls were, now recommended an application to the magistrates. Wilson was accordingly brought up to Hatton Garden police-office, where his two daughters exhibited charges against him. Being asked what he had to say to the appalling narrative delivered by his indignant children, he threw himself into a theatrical posture, and exclaimed, 'It's as false as hell -- that elder girl is a felon and a prostitute, and capable of the worst action.'-- Finding that these accusations availed him nothing, he turned round with an air of defiance, and said, with great emphasis, 'They are not my daughters, they are only my children by adoption.'
The magistrates, apprized that this assertion was as false as the other part of his defence, rose from their seats with disgust, and declared that they had heard enough to satisfy them of the infamy of his disposition. He was accordingly ordered to find bail.
Wilson was indicted at the Middlesex sessions, September the 18th, 1823, charged with having repeatedly attempted to ravish his own daughter. The prosecutrix was greatly affected during the trial; she sobbed aloud frequently, and appeared an object of general compassion. She was an interesting looking girl, and gave her evidence with natural and becoming modesty. Her revolting narrative was substantiated by several other witnesses, who had long been aware of Wilson's conduct, some of whom had seen the poor girl struggling in the embraces of her father.
Wilson, being called on for his defence, said the whole was a base story to ruin him; that his daughter had robbed him, and that she had been turned away from her situation for being a thief and a whore.
This accusation was instantly repelled. Her master came forward and gave her the highest possible character, saying that neither himself or her mistress would ever have parted with her, had she not gone away herself on the suggestion of her father. Several other persons gave her the highest character for modesty and proper deportment. It was proved that she was Wilson's daughter.
The jury instantly found the wretch Guilty, and he was sentenced to twelve months' imprisonment -- a punishment by no means proportioned to his crime. By our laws an attempt to commit murder is punished in the same manner as it the deed had been perpetrated; surely, then, by analogy, an attempt to commit a rape should he visited in the same way as if the offence had been actually committed.