Sunday, 5 August 2012

5th August 1812: John Schofield, the suspected Luddite assassin, is apprehended in London

Four days after the West Riding magistrates had interviewed John Hinchliffe about the attempt on his life on 22nd July 1812, a reward notice was issued, offering 200 Guineas for information. The notice also stated that the man Hinchliffe had mentioned to the magistrates as taking to him about Luddism - John Schofield - was suspected of being involved. and offered a further 20 Guineas for information leading to his apprehension. The notice carried a description of Schofield:
The said John [Schofield] is by Trade a Cloth-Dresser, about Twenty-one Years of Age, Five Feet Ten Inches high, Brown Hair, Dark Complexion, rather stout made; commonly wears a dark coloured Coat, made rather short, and Lead-coloured Jean Pantaloons.

But by then, Schofield had already left the West Riding: indeed, he had left the morning after the incident with Hinchliffe at Wickens. Schofield's father later gave a deposition that his son had voiced his concerns that he would be implicated in the attempt on Hinchliffe's life on the morning he had left, and stated that he intended to flee, leaving his wife and child behind, though he didn't say where to - only that he wouldn't head for Liverpool, in case he was recognised by any West Riding folk.

Taking 10 Guineas with him, Schofield travelled on foot, almost to Leicester, a journey of over 80 miles. There, he took the Nelson coach to London, arriving on Monday 27th July. He headed for the home of a relation called Blackburn, a woollen draper who lived in Aldgate, and stayed there a further 8 days. He borrowed another 5 Guineas from Blackburn to pay the 15 Guineas he would need for his passage to America on a ship that was leaving on Wednesday 5th August 1812.

Schofield's mistake was to use his real name for the ship's register - before it departed, a police officer from the Whitechapel Office called Francis Freeman boarded the ship, the Independent of New York, and found Schofield's name on the register and confronted him. Freeman asked him if he was from Yorkshire, and he said that he was, and Freeman noted his lead-coloured pantaloons. Schofield was asked to read the reward notice and admitted he was the person described in the notice, but denied knowing Hinchliffe. Freeman then arrested him, and took him before the police magistrate Daniel Williams.

In a deposition sworn later that day, Schofield said he had been invited to New York by an uncle called George Hirst, a shopkeeper. He described himself as a farmer, working for his wife's father, who ran a farm at Netherthong. He again denied knowing Hinchliffe, even of the fact he had been shot. He stated that he had bought the lead-coloured pantaloons on the London docks on Saturday 1st August, although he had failed to point out the shop to the police officer when challenged to do so, and the police officer had been unable to find a shop that sold such pants. In any case, the officer had looked through a chest Schofield had taken on board and could not find any other trousers amongst his possessions.

7 days later, with Schofield still in custody in London, his father was examined by the West Riding magistrate Joseph Scott, and related the conversation he had had with his son on the 23rd July. Describing his son's occupation as a clothdresser, crucially he stated that neither he nor his wife had any relation called George Hirst in New York.

This has been compiled from Howell (1823, pp.1038-1053) plus Schofield's deposition and that of his father, which can both be found at HO 42/126. The reward notice appears in the Leeds Intelligencer of 10th August 1812.

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