Tuesday, 15 April 2014

15th April 1814: The Trial of Major Gordon, for murder

On Friday 15th April 1812, Major Gordon of the Second Dragoon Guards, the former commander of the forces stationed at Huddersfield during the Luddite disturbances there, was tried for murder. An account of his trial is below.


On Thursday, the 14th ult. at the General Sessions of the Peace, held for the Town and Port of Sandwich, and its liberties, before Richard Emmerson, jun. Esq. Mayor, Wm. Fuller Boteler, Esq. Recorder, and a Bench of Magistrates, a bill of indictment was preferred against Major Gordon, of the 2d Dragoon Guards, for the murder of George Gregory, a private in the same regiment, and after a long examination of witnesses returned a true bill. The Court immediately adjourned to Friday the 15th, at nine o'clock in the morning, and soon after the prisoner (Major Gordon), came into the Court, supported by Lieutenant-General Craufurd, Colonel of the 2d Dragoon Guards, and a number of military and private friends, and appeared at the Bar, to take his trial upon such indictment, to which he pleaded—Not Guilty.

It appeared, by the evidence adduced on the part of the prosecution, that on the morning of the 25th of March, while the detachment of the regiment, under the command of the prisoner, were marching out of the barrack-yard at Ramsgate, where they had been quartered, in their way to Portsmouth for embarkation on foreign service, the deceased marched out with the rear-guard; that on passing the prisoner, Major Gordon, who was on foot on the outside of the barrack-yard, he brought up his horse towards the prisoner and refused to march; that the prisoner ordered the deceased to go on, and ordered the corporal of the rear-guard, who had charge of the deceased, to draw his sword; that the corporal answered the prisoner, "that his sword was at head-quarters (Deal) to be ground;" that the prisoner then drew the deceased’s sword, and after kicking the deceased’s horse, to make it go on, struck the hind-quarters of the horse several times with the flat part of the sword, at the same time ordering the deceased to go forward; that the deceased curbed his horse and prevented it from going forward, repeatedly saying, that he would not march until he knew why he was made a prisoner, though he had been told several times that it was "for being drunk under arms;" that the prisoner (Major Gordon), extended his arm, with the sword in his hand, towards the deceased’s back, as if to urge him forward, at which moment the deceased’s horse, by a violent plunge towards the prisoner, brought the deceased upon the point of the sword, which entered the left side of the deceased, just below the last rib, and caused his death; that the sword had been ground only the day before the accident for foreign service, unknown to the prisoner, and that otherwise it would not have caused any mischief; that a private’s sword in its ordinary state would not have penetrated the deceased’s clothes, and that if the horse had been allowed by the deceased to go forward, and had not been thrown suddenly round towards the prisoner, the accident would not have happened.

Sixteen witnesses were examined for the Crown, of whom, the evidence of three only, John Halford, a bugleman of the Rutland Militia; Benjamin Austen, a tailor, at Ramsgate; and Joseph Burton, a Serjeant of the Rutland Militia; imputed to the prisoner the charge of having given point at the deceased; but it being proved that Halford had said "he would be dammed if he would not do all he could to hang the Major," and that Austen had expressed himself very inveterately against the prisoner, and in consequence of the Serjeant most evidently shewing by his testimony, that he was a very prejudiced witness against the prisoner; their evidence was entirely left aside.

It appeared from the evidence of Mr. Snowden and Mr. Peake, the surgeons who examined the wound, that from the appearance of it, they could pronounce positively that the wound was not occasioned by a wilful thrust of the sword.

Previously to the prisoner being called upon for his defence, the Recorder stated to the Jury, that the case made out in evidence put the charge of murder entirely out of the question, and reduced the charge to a question of manslaughter.

The prisoner delivered a written defence to the Court, which, at his request, was read by General Craufurd, who executed the most arduous task with great feeling and effect. It contained a most solemn denial of any intention of either killing, wounding, or striking the deceased; coupled with expressions of the most poignant regret at the unfortunate accident, and gave a clear statement of the manner in which it had happened.

Several witnesses, officers and privates of the same regiment, were examined for the prisoner, from whose evidence it appeared, that the deceased had been reported to the prisoner to be drunk when the squadron were paraded to march off, and had in consequence been sent to the rear guard as a prisoner - that after being so made a prisoner, the deceased refused to march and obey orders―that his insubordinate conduct had been reported a second time to the prisoner, Major Gordon, who desired the corporal the rear guard "never to talk with the drunken man, as he would only get an impertinent answer," that the prisoner drew the deceased’s sword, which had been improperly left in his possession, intending to give it to the corporal, who was without a sword, as his own had been sent to Deal to be ground for service—that the corporal actually rode up to the prisoner to receive the sword—that the prisoner struck the deceased’s horse with the flat part of the sword several times, as the deceased would not proceed—that the deceased still continuing to check his horse and refusing to go on, the prisoner extended his arm with the intention of placing the flat part of the sword against the deceased’s back, by way of urging him forward, when the horse was suddenly forced round by the deceased towards the prisoner, and the fatal accident happened by the deceased’s body coming in contact with the point of the sword in consequence of this violent motion of the horse.

All the witnesses called by the prisoner to the facts of the case, concurred in attributing the deceased’s death entirely to accident, and denying that the prisoner was in a passion, or used any intemperate language to the deceased. The privates who were examined, spoke highly of the prisoner's humanity to the soldiers in general.

The following witnesses gave the prisoner the highest character possible in every respect, both as an officer and a man. His uncommon command of temper, patience, and forbearance, under the most trying circumstances, on various occasions, as well as his remarkable humanity, benevolence, and charitable disposition, were completely established by them. Upon their oaths they described him as one of the most amiable characters which exist; in short, as possessing every virtue which adorus the human mind.―Lieut. Gen. Craufurd; Right Hon. Lord George Beresford; Lieut. Col. Kearney; Geo. Watson, Esq. Major Gossip; Sir John Leman Rogers, Bart.; Lt. Col. Spicer; the Hon. John Somers Cocks, M.P.; Lieut. Col. Webb; Lieut. Col. Ross; Capt. Bush; Lieut. Soulsby; Cornet Kearney, and Wm. Hougham, Esq. of Canterbury.

The Recorder then charged the Jury, lamenting, that after the exceedingly high character which had just been given of the Prisoner; notwithstanding his full conviction that the unfortunate incident had proceeded from accident alone, he could not conscientiously direct them to find a general verdict of acquittal, but in his opinion, in point of law, their verdict must be manslaughter.

The Jury retired for half an hour, and returned their Verdict―Manslaughter.

The RECORDER, in passing the sentence of the Court, very strongly repeated the regret which he had before expressed his charge to the Jury, and stated that not only himself, but the whole Bench, were unanimously of opinion at accident alone was the occasion of the deceased’s death; that the sudden turn of the horse had brought the deceased on the point of the sword, which, from having just been just sharpened, penetrated his body, and that there was a total absence of all intention on the part of the Prisoner in any way to hurt the deceased; but that, in his as in his opinion an incautious use, had been made of the sword, it amounted in law to Manslaughter.

He declared the sentence of the Court to be, that the Prisoner should pay a fine of 50l. which he immediately paid, and was then discharged.

The trial lasted until after eight o'clock at night.

This is from the Morning Post of 7th May 1814.

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