The trial of this melancholy case took place at Lewes on the Home Circuit, on Friday the 5th January 1827.
The prisoner at this time was only twenty-eight years of age, and the indictment alleged that he had been guilty of the wilful murder of his son, Isaac Burt, by stabbing him with a shoemaker's knife, at Brighton, on the 22nd of August, in the preceding year.
From the evidence adduced to sustain the prosecution, it appeared that the prisoner was married to his wife, a fine young woman, in July 1825. He then became a toll-collector at Long Ditton; but his wife and he did not live happily together, and at Christmas in the same year he quarrelled with her and cruelly beat her with a poker. From that time she did not live with him, although repeatedly solicited by him so to do. At the end of May, the child whose murder led to the present indictment was born, and the mother went to Ditchelling workhouse, taking the infant with her. On the 20th of August the poor woman went to live at the house of Mrs. Young at Brighton. Two days subsequently the prisoner called to see her; he was refused admission, but forced his way to the room in which she was with her child, and in a paroxysm of rage stabbed her repeatedly with a knife, and also inflicted several mortal wounds on the child which was in her arms. She rushed out of the house with her murdered babe, and the prisoner was secured.
The prisoner, in his defence, stated that his marriage with his wife was one arising from pure love. Shortly afterwards, however, she became cool in her demeanour, and admitted that she did not like him, but that her affections were fixed on another object, a naval officer, whom she had known before. She subsequently left him; and tortured by jealousy, which was confirmed by a letter he detected her writing, commencing with the words "My dear," he determined to wound her in such a way as to render her disagreeable in the eyes of her lover. For this purpose he went to her on the 22nd of August, but he declared that he had not the slightest intention to kill his child.
The jury nevertheless returned a verdict of Guilty, and the wretched prisoner was sentenced to be executed at Horsham on the following Monday.
A second indictment, charging him with stabbing his wife, was withdrawn.
From the time of his condemnation, the wretched prisoner exhibited the greatest contrition, and appeared deeply impressed with the dreadful situation in which he was placed. He took leave of his wife on the morning of his execution, and both of them appeared to be much affected.
At ten minutes before twelve o'clock, the unfortunate man was conducted to the scaffold by the persons belonging to the prison, attended by the Reverend Mr. Witherby, the chaplain of the jail. He then advanced to the front of the railing, and addressed the people to the following effect:-- "My friends, I hope you'll all take warning from me, and let not your passion get the better of your reason, as mine has done. I own my fault and am ready and prepared to die; and I hope the Lord stands ready to receive my soul." The last preparations having been made, the drop fell from beneath his feet, and he was launched into eternity.
The following letter was sent by Burt to his wife on Saturday, the day after his condemnation:--
"Horsham, the 6th day of January, A.D. 1827.
"My dear wife -- I have now sent you my last letter that ever you will receive from me. I hope you are in good health and happy in your mind -- as I am myself at present much happier than what any person would suppose. I seem not to fear, nor to dread death. I comfort myself by saying in mine heart, I shall probably in a few hours have the pleasure of seeing my own dear little baby and your two sisters. I do not make the least doubt but what the Lord will make me amends for all my trouble and great losses which I have had in this world. I do not mean to say that I would choose this disgraceful death rather than life, if I were to have my choice. My dear Harriet, I am very sorry that you did not come in to shake hands and bid me farewell. Let me prevail with you, my dear, to come, if possible, to see me, and let us depart without bearing malice, or having any hatred towards each other. Remember, the time will come when you will die as well as me; and, perhaps, when you are on your death-bed, it may be a great trouble to your mind because you did not shake hands with your poor unfortunate husband, when you had it in your power of so doing. If you can, reach Horsham jail before twelve o'clock on Monday -- after that time is past, if you would give ten thousand worlds, it would not be granted unto you. If you should come only one minute before I die, I shall be very glad to embrace the pleasure of seeing once more her whom my heart dearly loveth. I willingly, with all my heart, forgive you and your mother, likewise all other persons who have in any way tried to persuade you to never have made up matters -- to be reconciled -- and to have lived with me again. Pray come and see me before I die.
"Farewell, farewell, farewell, my dear and precious wife.
The wish of the wretched convict, as will have been already seen, was gratified.