Monday, 23 July 2012

23rd July 1812: The trial of Thomas Wilson at York Summer Assizes

The Leeds Mercury of 25th July 1812, carried the details of the trial of Thomas Wilson, accused of rioting in Sheffield on 14th April 1812. It is not clear on what day the trial took place, although it was likely to be before sentencing on 24th July.
THOMAS WILSON was charged with a riot in the streets at Sheffield, and also with assaulting Archibald Stuart Wortley, Esq. and Hugh Parker, Esq. and discharge of their duty as Magistrates.

Archibald Stuart Wortley, Esq. M.P. stated that he was an acting magistrate for the West-Riding of this county, as was also Hugh Parker Esq. Witness resides about eight miles from Sheffield; was there on the 14th of April; got there about one o'clock. There were a great number of people collected in the market place. The Witness and Constables went to induce them to disperse; the mob at first surrounded, and shewed a disposition to press upon him; the young boys were nearest him, and appeared to be pushed forwards by the people behind. With the assistance of the constables he got them to retreat to some distance; Witness then addressed the mob, to persuade them to disperse, but without effect. In a little time the great body of the mob appeared to have removed to another place; not knowing where the mob were gone, they thought it right to go round the market-place; found the mob at the head of the market-place, and finding the riot continue, Mr. Parker read the riot act. Being informed that the rioters had proceeded to acts of violence in another part of the town, (in Church-lane) they proceeded thither: when they arrived there they found the mob had begun to break the windows of a dwelling-house; they there read the right act again. Both before and after the reading of the riot act, they (the Magistrates) were assailed by potatoes and other missiles which the mob could lay hold of. Did not then attempt to apprehend any of the rioters. Very shortly after there was a kind of cheer given by the mob, when they immediately retreated. The Magistrates followed them to a potatoe-shop, which they were informed had been broken open; but the mob had then removed to another part. The Magistrates then returned to the market-place, and finding all their efforts to suppress the tumult ineffectual, they thought it high time to call in the aid of the military; but before the arrival of the military, the mob had moved off to the military depot. Thos. Smith, the constable seized a woman who had her apron full of potatoes; Witness directed her to be carried into the Town-Hall-Prison; two constables went with her, attended by the magistrates; the populace cried out “rescue,”and immediately a man rushed out of the crowd, and laid hold of the constable; Witness seeng this, darted forward and seized him by the collar, a great body of the mob followed, and endeavoured to separate him from the mob, there was then a considerable scuffle, and in the end the mob released the man. There was then a sort of huzza set up by the rioters. Witness mounted his horse and proceeded to meet the military, and went with them to disperse the mob. Witness remained at Sheffield four days.

Mr. Pointer and Mr. Wm. Smith, constables, both stated to have seen the Prisoner at the riot, in the act of throwing potatoes.

Several respectable Witnesses give the Prisoner an exceeding good character.

His Lordship, after recapitulating the evidence, made some very pointed observations on the folly of destroying provisions, and intimidating the sellers from bringing them to the market, which no man in his senses would suppose would have the effect of diminishing the scarcity complained of. He was aware there had been a great pressure upon the lower classes of society, which excited his most lively commiseration; but he could also add, that at no period had the higher ranks of society shewn themselves more alive to the distresses of the poor, or more disposed to make greater sacrifices to relieve them. He himself knew a nobleman who had, for several months past, never eaten either bread or pastry at his own table, solely with a view to lessen the consumption of those articles of necessity, and diminish the pressure upon the poor. It was to be hoped, when those exertions and sacrifices on the part of the higher classes society were known, they would produce in the minds of the poor spirit of grateful feeling towards them.

The Jury found the Prisoner Guilty, but recommended him to mercy on account of his good character.

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