Wednesday, 13 March 2013

13th March 1813: A Leeds Mercury editorial attempts to settle the dispute about George Mellor's last words


A dispute of little interest perhaps, except to the disputants, has for some weeks been maintained to the Leeds Newspapers which we hope now to bring to a close, and to this end it is necessary to take a short review of the circumstances in which it originated. It is well known to the public, that on Friday the 8th of January, George Miller, William Thorp, and Thomas Smith, who had on the Wednesday preceeding, been convicted on the clearest evidence of the atrocious murder of Mr. Horsfall were executed at York; at that awful scene, a person from the office of this paper attended, and the report made by him through the columns of the Mercury was that "George Mellor confessed in general the greatness of his sins, but that he made no confession of the crime for which he suffered." This statement an anonymous writer, under the signature of "an Attentive Hearer," contradicted in the Intelligencer on the Monday following, by asserting that Mellor confessed himself a murderer at the place of execution, and that he also used this remarkable expression, "not die game." On such conflicting testimony, a controversy arose in which an Attentive Hearer continued to maintain that Mellor used both these expressions; and in his second letter he insinuated that the Editor of the Mercury had private reasons, "prudent motives" was his expression for concealing the truth; and this attack at once absurd and unfounded, was entirely unprovoked, as a reference to the papers up to that time will show. To contend in person with an adversary without a name, and who had made so free and use of his ægis, and of his spear was to oppose a substance to a shadow; we therefore saw it proper to place the combatants on equal grounds, and with that view, to take the signature of "A Diligent Enquirer." Under these designations the contest continued for some weeks, when by way of bringing this tedious dispute to an issue, the Attentive Hearer was challenged by his opponent to an exchange of authorities, which being accepted, this exchange took place, and the result of the inquiries to which it has given rise, we now submit to the public.

The names of the persons produced by a Diligent Enquirer in confirmation of his assertions amount to seven in number, consisting of the Gentleman who officiated as Under-Sheriff, the Governor of York Castle, the Reverend Gentleman who attended the prisoners in their last moments, and two Sheriff’s Officers, who all stood upon the platform, one of them at a distance of more than three or four yards from Mellor, and some of them at his elbow; in addition to these five authorities, the Diligent Enquirer also verified his assertions by the names of two persons who stood in the place usually occupied by spectators, and all of whom had declared to him, that to the best of their knowledge and belief, the words in question were not used, and to these he might have added the names of a number of other persons, the principal part of whom stood upon the platform; but he selected these as evidences of the most unexceptionable kind, and as amply sufficient to satisfy any man open to conviction.

The authorities produced by an Attentive Hearer amounted to five in number, only one of whom stood on the platform, and such of the others as were present, at a distance of 40 or 50 yards.

The first of these, he that stood upon the platform, says, that he did hear Mellor use the words, "us poor Murderers," but he heard no such words as "not die Game." The second and third make the same declaration. The fourth says, that he thinks he heard the word murderers used in a confessional sense, but he cannot be quite certain, as he stood at so great a distance, that he could only hear a sentence now and then; but as to the words "not die game" he heard no such expression. The fifth and last of an Attentive Hearer's authorities is a Reverend Gentleman at York, and he says, that he was he was never present at an execution in his life, and consequently that he was not present at the execution of Mellor, nor did he ever say that the account given by an Attentive Hearer "was correct."

Such are the authorities by which the assertions of the contending parties are supported, and on a comparison of this evidence, we think no man that will exercise his understanding can fail to arrive at a just conclusion. We have no more doubt that the persons who say Mellor used words amounting to a confession so understood him, than we have that Mellor and his fellow-sufferers were guilty of the crime for which they were executed, but do believe they were murderers, and this belief we ground on the testimony of those whose stations the place of execution gave them an opportunity of hearing distinct every word that fell from the lips of the culprits, and whose official duties required that they should be particularly watchful over the expressions of men dying under such circumstances, and none of whom, it is universally allowed, had up to the moment they came to the fatal tree, made any confession of their guilt, express or implied.

On the other terms are remarkable and so improbable—we mean the expression "not die game," an Attentive Hearer is in effect contradicted by all his own authorities, excepting only that which was not present. Here at least he must admit that he is in error, for not to make that admission would be to impeach the testimony of his own evidence; and this circumstance will, we hope, be useful to him in future life, by inculcating the necessity of being less confident in his own opinions, and more disposed to defer to the opinions of others.

No comments:

Post a Comment