Sunday, 6 January 2013

6th January 1813: The trial of George Mellor, William Thorpe & Thomas Smith - Part 1: the prosecution's case

On Wednesday 6th January, the trial of George Mellor (aged 22), William Thorpe (23) & Thomas Smith (22) for the murder of William Horsfall took place. The Crown had wanted to try this case first, but was prevented from doing so by an application from the defence’s legal team that they were not prepared.

The trial commenced at 9.00 a.m. in an overcrowded court room, so much so that court officers and counsel struggled to find a seat.

The Jury for this trial was as follows:

Humphrey Fletcher, Foreman
William Buttle
William Atkinson
John Johnson, senior
Jonathan Barker
William Denison, junior
Robert Kettlewell
Jeremiah Kirk
William Rimmington
William Scholefield
John Walker
Nicholas Walton

In the indictment, only Mellor was charged with shooting Horsfall – Thorpe & Smith with being present and aiding & abetting, but all 3 were charged with murder. They all pleaded Not Guilty, the Leeds Mercury describing their appearance as “very respectable”.

For the Crown, James Alan Park reminded the Jury that they were sworn to “inquire into the matter of blood”. He went on to paint a very picture of the whole of the Luddite disturbances, as if they had culminated in the assassination of Horsfall, a mystification that has been repeated down the years to today. Horsfall was portrayed by him as a family man, giving employment to hundreds of workers, and loved by them almost as a benevolent father figure. Park also placed the anti-Luddite argument central and prominent in his address to the Jury:
“(Horsfall) employed the machinery which was the object of the abuse of these misguided people. I have not the means of making such observations as I have frequently and lately heard made, upon the delusion which has prevailed upon that subject, amongst the lower orders. It has been supposed that the increase of the machinery, by which manufacturers are rendered more easy, abridges the quantity of labour wanted in the country. It is a fallacious argument: it is an argument, that no ma who understands the subject at all, will seriously maintain. I mention this, not so much for the sake of you, or these unfortunate prisoners, as for the sake of the vast numbers of persons who are assembled in this place.”
The Leeds Mercury also captured Park’s words about Horsfall’s character:
“(Horsfall) had expressed himself with a manly warmth against the delusions under which the manufacturing classes laboured, some may think his warmth imprudent, but I am not of that opinion”
Park then went on to relate what had happened on the 28th April 1812. Reflecting on the indictment, Park noted that it accused Mellor of firing one shot – Park admitted that two shots were fired, but said this was ‘immaterial’ – he contended that all three were charged with murder and it did not matter who fired the shots. He went on to say that four men were involved, and that the fourth accomplice – Benjamin Walker - would give evidence for the Crown.

Park related that a vague plan had been hatched in John Wood’s cropping shop, where Mellor, Walker & Smith worked, Wood being Mellor’s step-father. Park contended that George Mellor was the ringleader, and an advocate of assassination, but that Walker was not informed of the plan to shoot Horsfall until 4.00 p.m. on the very day it had been decided to proceed with the plan. The four men were to meet in a plantation belonging to Sir Joseph Radcliffe at 5.30 p.m., as it adjoined the road Horsfall would be taking on his journey home to Marsden from Huddersfield market.

Park then explained he would call another witness for the Crown – William Hall – a fellow cropper who knew of the plans for Horsfall. Park contended that Hall had bought Mellor’s Russian horse pistol, and Mellor had borrowed it from him that day, explaining what he intended to do.

Park also tried to whiten the character if his principle witness by contending that Mellor had threatened to shoot him if he did not take part in the plan. He went on to describe in detail what had taken place, as the witnesses would relate further into the trial.

Park ended his statement of the Crown’s case with a bleak biblical quotation:
“the land can only be cleansed from the pollution it has received from blood, by the blood of him that sheddeth it”.

I have used Howell (1823, pp.997-1009) & the Leeds Mercury Extraordinary Edition of 9th January 1813 to compile this article.

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