Friday, 1 June 2012

1st June 1812: The convicted prisoners are sentenced at Lancaster Special Commission

On Monday 1st June 1812, following the last trial at the Lancaster Special Commission, the convicted prisoners received their sentences from the Senior Judge at the trials, Baron Thompson:
“John Hurst, Christopher Medcalfe, James Brierley, Henry Thwaite, Joseph Greenhalgh, Samuel Radliffe, Thomas Pickup, John Burney, James Knowles, John Fisher, and Thomas Holden.—The country has been engaged in a most serious enquiry into the causes and into the consequences of the most outrageous disturbances that have ever been observed, and the consequence of that enquiry has been the conviction of several who were concerned in them; some of you who now stand at the bar been found guilty in administering, or aiding and consenting thereto, and others of taking, unlawful oaths, not to discover or reveal certain persons who were engaged in such practices, and binding itself to be associates with them. It is but too probable that many of the offences which have disgraced this county have been committed in consequence of the administering of such oath. We have heard repeated a part of the terms used in it, and they are such as to make one shudder. You have been engaged deeply in these transactions, you have assembled with others in a large body, and have enrolled all those who were willing or desirous to join you. The greater part of you stand convicted of having administered the oath to an innocent person, not willing to take it, and whom you apprehended to be a spy; I mean those in the case of Holland Bowden. You had been attending that unlawful assembly upon the moor, and upon your road from it, it was the misfortune of this man to meet with you; under the threat and terror of being shot, you compelled him to take the oath. It is extremely probable, that at this time, on the 17th April you had planned the destruction of the West Houghton mill and warehouse, for it was in evidence upon your trial, that conversation about the mill had been held, the delegates were sent to see in what state it then was, and how it was guarded; it was also mentioned, in the course of that conversation, that a feint would be made, to endeavour to deceive the military; and too well did these intentions succeed, for upon the 24th that mill was destroyed, which appeared to have been the object of your lawless vengeance for some time. This is the nature of the crime which you, the seven first prisoners, and now at the bar. You, John Burney, are not charged with being present at that time, but with having been present and consenting to the administration of unlawful oath to one Isaac Clayton, who was a soldier in the militia, the purport of which was similar to the other. Though it was not actually administered by you, yet it was in your hearing, and with your consent; for so the Jury have very wisely determined, by their verdict. The effect intended by the administration of this oath was of the most alarming nature; no less than the overthrow of Government. You, John Fisher, James Knowles, and Thomas Holden, have been found guilty of taking the like unlawful oath. It was urged in your behalf that you went to this meeting merely out of curiosity, and to see what was to be done. But when you went, you could not but that it was met for an unlawful purpose; the watch-word was given, and it was hoped that none were there who did not know the object of the meeting; and after the full knowledge you had of it, you, the three prisoners, did actually, without hesitation, take the oath which was required of you. You, James Knowles, too well observed the nature and purport of the oath, for you were one of those present, when Holland Bowden was compelled to take it, and you were indicted for assisting in that act. The offence for which you and the other prisoners are now at the bar has been provided against by an Act passed eleven years ago, and unhappily there is now occasion free to be called into force. The wisdom of the Legislature has decreed, and the judgment of the Court is, that you be severally transported to some part beyond the seas for the term of seven years.

James Smith, Thomas Kerfoot, Job Fletcher, Abraham Charlson, John Howarth, John Lee, Thomas Hoyle, and Hannah Smith.—The awful moment has now arrived in which you are to receive that sentence which the laws of your country and awarded against those atrocities of which you have been guilty, and for the which your lives are forfeited. The result of the investigation into the several charges against you is, that you have all been guilty of these acts of violence and outrage, riotously and tumultuously assembling together, and committing depredations against the property of those who have been the object of your unlicensed attacks. Four of you have been convicted of burning the mill at West Houghton, and destroying machinery the most useful. At that scene of despair you were seen conducting yourselves with circumstances productive of the utmost terror, and particularly active in forwarding its destruction; and you must atone for it with your lives. Three others of you have been convicted of breaking and entering the house and shop of a man, who was in it, together with his family, at the time, and of stealing bread, potatoes, and several other articles, in short, plundering him of nearly the whole contents of the shop. It was beset with great numbers, and became the object of your fury, because the owner had refused to accede to your exorbitant demands. It is highly necessary that this should be punished severely. You, Hannah Smith, have been found guilty of a robbery on the highway of a large quantity of butter, seizing the prosecutor’s cart, and assisting in carrying away nearly the whole of the contents, without him having been paid any price for it; you have also been convicted of stealing a quantity of potatoes. This circumstance seems to prove that you were one of the most determined enemies to good order, and it is fit to be understood, that sex is not entitled to any mitigation of punishment, when the crime is of such a nature as to deserve it. In the awful state in which you stand, who are now before me, and who must shortly leave this will for another, I feel it my bounden duty to exhort you to consider your situation, to make yourself sensible of your crimes, to confess your sins before God, and to implore his mercy; and may all within these walls, and without, wherever these tidings may reach, take warning from your example, and observe, that they cannot, with impunity, conspire to disturb the public tranquillity; for whatever they may think, though they may suppose themselves to be beyond the reach of the law, justice may overtake them; and though you may not have intended to go the lengths you have, yet who can say, “thus far will I go and no further?”—Suffer me to exhort you to set about the great work of repentance, that you may obtain that mercy hereafter, which cannot be shewn you here. It now only remains for me to pronounce that sentence which the law has adjudged. Hear that sentence. This Court does adjudge, that you, the several prisoners at the bar, be taken to the place from whence you came, and from thence to the place of execution, and there to be hung by the neck until you are dead; and may the Lord have mercy upon your souls!”

Of the foregoing eleven prisoners, sentenced to be transported, Holden, Knowles, and Fisher, were for taking an unlawful oath, at Bolton; and the remainder for aiding and assisting in the administering of all unlawful oaths, at Bolton.

Of the eight prisoners condemned, Hannah Smith, was for rioting and highway robbery, at Manchester; Charlson, Fletcher, Kerfoot, and Smith, for rioting and burning the mill, at West Houghton; and Howarth, Lee, and Hoyle, for rioting and breaking into a house, and stealing provisions, at Manchester.

NB: Although a Charles Clark appeared amongst the list of the prisoners in the 23rd May 1812 edition of the Lancaster Gazette, charged with setting fire to the Rope Walk at Bolton on  21st April 1812, neither an account of his trial nor a result appears in any subsequent editions.

As reported in the Lancaster Gazette of 6th June 1812.

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