The Newgate Calendar - JAMES HILLS, WILLIAM HARLEY, AND WILLIAM FISHER, alias CURLY BILL.

JAMES HILLS, WILLIAM HARLEY, AND WILLIAM FISHER, alias CURLY BILL.
Tried for Burglary.

            This burglary was marked by circumstances of very considerable peculiarity.

            The men whose names appear at the head of this article were indicted at the Kingston Assizes, on Thursday the 31st of March 1836, for a burglary in the house of Mrs. Mary Anne Long, at Chipstead, in Surrey, on the night of the 2nd of September 1835, and for stealing therefrom various articles of property.

            The circumstances attending the robbery were well described by Mrs. Long at the trial. She said, "I am sixty-six years of age, a widow, and reside with my sister, Mrs. Scholefield, at Mint House, Chipstead, which is a lone house, situate between Gatton and Reigate: on the night of the 2nd of September last, I, Mrs. Scholefield, her son (Mr. Rankin), and a female servant, were the only inmates; we retired to bed after having seen that all the premises were properly fastened; I slept with my sister, and about ten minutes past one in the morning I was awoke by hearing the dog, which was kept in the yard, barking violently; I got up and opened the bed-room window, and thinking that some persons were about the premises, I hallooed out that they had better keep out of the way, or I would put a bullet into their stomach, which was not a pleasant thing; I did so to intimidate them, and then retired to bed; shortly after I heard a noise, and again got up; on going to the window I saw a man trying to get in; he had smashed the pane, and was armed with a stake; I seized hold of the stake, and tried to wrest it from him, but he was too strong for me, and struck me a violent blow on the head, inflicting a wound of an inch and a half in length; he also struck me on the shoulder and hand, of which I lost the use for some time; I then called to my nephew, Mr. Rankin, and he came armed with a cutlass; he made a cut at the man, but the night being very dark, and there being railings at the window, he missed him, and he got down the ladder and went away; I then lit three or four candles, and went down stairs for my nephew's gun; I brought it up, but recollecting that I had left the powder and ammunition, I again went down for it, and locked the pantry-door after me; I returned up stairs, and my nephew loaded the gun; about a half or three-quarters of an hour afterwards we heard a great noise outside the house, and the panel of the south door looking out upon a meadow was smashed in; we heard the voices of six or seven men, who entered the house; they remained down stairs three-quarters of an hour; I slept in a room at the end of a passage, and my nephew's bed-room was opposite; there is a door at the top of the passage leading down the stairs; we placed ourselves in the passage; we then heard one of the men say, 'Now we will go up stairs,' and I heard what I supposed to be a man crawling on his hands and knees -- I judged so from the scraping his toes made along the floor-cloth; Mrs. Scholefield was very much alarmed, and cried out for mercy; the men said, 'Give us 50l. or 30l. or 20l.; I told them that all my money was in the bank, and my plate at my banker's: one of the men said, 'I will murder you; and another man said, 'We will murder you all;' they then forced in the panel of the door, and a man at the bottom of the stairs said, 'Go it, my boys:' Mr. Rankin dropped on his knee, and presented the gun through the panel; I could only see the rim of the hat of a man who appeared to be stooping down; Mr. Rankin fired, and the men fell back, and the candle went out; they all then went away; we waited for some time, and the dog having ceased barking, I and my nephew proceeded down stairs, he armed with a gun, and I carrying the cutlass; we fastened up the door as well as we could, and then went into the parlour, and found that the men had drunk two bottles of wine; we also found the cores of fourteen apples; they had taken away a watch, some cruet-frames, and other articles."

            This statement of facts was corroborated by the testimony of Mrs. Scholefield and Mr. Rankin, who added their positive declaration as to the identity of the prisoners Hills and Harley. The former was the man who had been shot; and on his being taken into custody, shot of the same description as that which had been fired from his gun by Mr. Rankin were found in his breast. Fisher had been apprehended at the same time, and in company with the other prisoners; but there appeared to be considerable doubt whether he had been personally concerned in the burglary.

            The jury found Hills and Harley "Guilty," but acquitted Fisher.

            Mr. Justice Vaughan, in passing sentence of death upon the prisoners, remarked upon the great courage which had been displayed by Mrs. Long and Mr. Rankin, and directed that they should receive a reward as a mark of the high estimation in which he held their conduct.

            After their conviction the prisoners were removed to Horsemonger-lane jail, where they paid the most assiduous attention to the spiritual consolation offered to them by the Rev. Mr. Mann, the chaplain.

            On Monday, the 11th of April, the last sentence of the law was carried into execution upon the person of the convict Harley, a respite during pleasure having been granted on the previous day in the case of his fellow-convict Hills. The convict maintained a deportment of great firmness, unmixed, however, with any symptoms of bravado, or unnatural courage. He appeared sincerely penitent and met his fate with becoming resignation.

            The sentence of Hills was eventually commuted to transportation for life, in consequence of some favourable circumstances which transpired.

            Both convicts were men of an inferior station, but there was good reason to believe that in the course of the proceedings of their lives they had been guilty of more than one offence of considerable enormity.

 

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