Tuesday, 8 January 2013

8th January 1813: The trials of John Eadon & Craven Cookson for administering illegal oaths

Three trials took place immediately after the execution of Mellor, Thorpe & Smith on Friday 8th January 1813.

Commencing at 11.00 a.m., the first was that of a weaver, John Eadon (aged 34), for administering an illegal oath to Richard Howells between 20th & 21st May 1812.

James Alan Park made it clear to the court that the trials that day were concerned with offences for which the maximum sentence was transportation: no doubt the spectacle of the executions that morning were weighing heavily on everyone present. Although the law had changed making administering illegal oaths punishable by death, Eadon’s offence had been committed prior to the change in the law.

Park went on to outline the case: that Richard Howells lived in the same house as Eadon, at Barnsley. The two men had gone for a walk, and Eadon was alleged to have suggested to Howells that he should become a Luddite, and that if he was interested, he knew a man who could make him one. Howells did not object to the idea, and so Eadon revealed that the man who could do so was, in fact, him. Eadon produced the Book of Common Prayer and administered the oath, with Howells kissing the book at the end. Eadon then gave Howells a copy of the oath in writing, with Park alleging this was Eadon’s handwriting. This copy of the oath was then passed on the 12th June to someone who was to appear as a witness at the trial, a man called Thomas Broughton, who then eventually passed it to Sergeant Prettyjohn of the South Devon Militia, who then gave it to Lieutenant-Colonel Lang in September. Park showed the oath to the Court and read it out:
I Richard Howells I of my own free will and A Coard declare and solemnly sware that I will never reveal to aney to aney Person or Persons aney thing that may lead to discovery of the same Either in or by word sign or action as may lead to aney Discovery under the Penalty of being sent out of this World by the first Brother that May Meet me further more I do sware that I will Punish by death aney trater or trators should there aney arise up amongst us I will pursue with unseaceing vengence, should he fly to the verge of Statude. I will be gust true sober and faithful in all my deailings with all my Brothers So help GOD to keep this my Oath Inviolated Amen.
The Court then went on to hear evidence from Richard Howells, who stated that he did not take the oath seriously at the time – and the defence counsel pounced on this point, arguing that it undermined the whole of the Crown’s case.

One of the Judges, Mr. Justice Le Blanc, responded to this by saying that the indictment was concerned with Eadon’s administration of the oath, and not Howell’s considering it a joke. The other Judge, Baron Thomson, agreed. Le Blanc then summed up the case.

Thomas Broughton, Sergeant Prettyjohn & Lieutenant-Colonel Lang all went on to give evidence about the course of events, as did a Sheffield solicitor employed by Government called Brown.

The Jury went on to find Eadon Guilty.

Immediately after the conclusion of the case, Eadon stood trial again, this time with an accomplice called Craven Cookson (aged 31), another weaver, for administering an illegal oath to Thomas Broughton.

Mr. Park opened the case by stating that as Eadon had been already been found guilty of a similar offence, and because the Crown considered Cookson ‘much less guilty’, he did not intend to give any evidence against Cookson.

Mr. Justice Le Blanc directed the Jury to find both Eadon & Cookson Not Guilty, which they duly did.

This is from Howell (1823, pp.1064-1074).

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