Friday, 17 June 2016

17th June 1816: The Ely Special Commission commences

The Bury & Norwich Post of 26th June 1816 carried a full report of the Ely Special Commission, which commenced on Monday 17th June 1816:

MONDAY, June 17.

This day, at 10 o'clock, the Hon. Mr. Justice Abbott, Mr. Justice Burrough, and Edw. Christian, Esq. Chief Justice of the Isle of Ely, arrived in that city, (As mentioned in last week's paper) preceded by a cavalcade consisting of the principal inhabitants, and immediately repaired to the Court-house, where they opened a Special Commission for the trial of the persons charged with having riotously assembled, and committed various felonies at Littleport and Ely. The Commission having been read, the Judges went to the Palace, and breakfasted with the Bishop of Ely.—At half-past 11, the procession moved from the Palace to the Cathedral, preceded 50 of the principal inhabitants, who attended on foot, with white wands: The Judges and their attendants, with the Bishop of Ely, and Hugh Robert Evans, Esq. the Deputy High Bailiff, were met in the Cathedral by the Dean and Prebendaries. Divine service was read by the Precentor, the Rev. W. Metcalfe; in the course of which Handel’s beautiful air of "Why do the Heathen so furiously rage together," with the Chorus of "Let us break their bonds asunder," were performed by the choir—Previous to the sermon, an anthem, composed for the occasion by Mr. H. Skeats, the organist, from the 96th Psalm, v. 10 "Tell it out among the people that the Lord is King," was admirably sung by Mr. Ling.—An excellent sermon was preached by the Rev. Sir H. B. Dudley, Bart. Prebendary of Ely, from 1. Tim. i. 9. “The law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient".—After the sermon, the choir performed Handel’s, grand chorus, "Hallelujah, for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth,

The Court re-assembled at one o'clock, and the preliminary business being concluded, and the Grand Jury sworn, Mr. Justice Abbot addressed them to the following effect:—

“Gentlemen of the Grand Jury,

You have been called together at this unusual period, and with the present solemnities, in consequence of some very daring acts of outrage committed by various misguided individuals in this town and its neighbourhood, which must be still fresh in your recollection. In contemplating the nature of these atrocities, it is impossible to consider without commendation the conductors of those prompt and efficacious measures by which, after it had domineered for several days together, the spirit of tumult and devastation was finally subdued. The natural progress of triumphant insurrection is to increase in fury, and to grow larger in its demands, until from robbery it proceeds to the burning of houses and the murder of their inhabitants. Although no offences of this last and highest kind will be laid before you, yet it appears by the depositions that some crimes of a very deep die have been committed. Of some of these, considering the situation of their perpetrators, it may be difficult to penetrate the motive, and it may be, as often happens in such cases, that it was hardly known to the offenders themselves. The pretence fur these lawless disturbances seems to have been the necessity of advance in the wages of husbandry: but the circumstances of some among the offenders do not correspond with the supposition of such an object. It had happened, that the hardships necessarily incident to a state of poverty, were aggravated by the peculiarity of the seasons, and the temper of mind which was thus produced appears to have been inflamed by designing persons into a settled hostility against the higher orders of society.—This spirit soon manifested itself in the destruction of property, as if labour could he encouraged, and wages raised, by the ruin of those who are to employ the one and to pay the other. In no country in the world are there so many institutions for the humane purpose of administering to the wants and necessities of the poor—in no county does both public and private bounty flow in so many streams for the comfort and relief of the distressed classes of the community. It is to be observed, too, that the money which was taken from individuals on this melancholy occasion was not applied to the support of the families of the offenders, but was consumed in riot and intoxication, by which the blood was heated, the understanding confused, and the spirit inflamed to acts of further and more violent aggression against the persons and property of their neighbours. The number of persons engaged in the commission of these atrocities is so considerable that it has been deemed necessary thus suddenly to call you together, in order that the innocent may be restored to liberty without delay, the guilty brought to punishment, and the peaceable inhabitant convinced that the laws are effectual for his protection and his vindication. It is the first time that such a proceeding has been deemed necessary in this place, and I sincerely hope it may be the last. I am not aware that the task which you are now called upon to execute, however painful, will be attended with any extraordinary difficulties. Judging from the depositions which lie before me, the capital felonies which will be presented before you resolve themselves into the three different crimes, viz. burglary, robbery from the person, and stealing in a dwelling-house. It is fit, however, that I should here maker one observation, which is, that there are many offences committed by large assemblies of men, in which the guilt is not confined to the individual whole hand executes the felonious act. All those who are present at its commission, who favour it with their approbation an concurrence, or who aid and encourage by their voice and action, are involved in the same legal culpability. This is a principle dictated by reason, and established in law; for without the presence of others the actual perpetrator might not have been able to accomplish the criminal purpose, or might have been deterred from attempting it by the exertions of the well-disposed. With regard to the particular crime of burglary, it may be proper for me to remark, that it consists in the breaking into a house at night with intent to commit some felony. What the nature of this felony may be is not material; nor is it necessary, in order to constitute burglary, that the felonious intention should have been carried into effect. The circumstances under which the breaking at night has been effected, must form the evidence of the intent with which it was done. All who then enter are equally guilty; and the same rule applies to those who keep watch whilst others enter. Even if the entry should he made in consequence of the door being opened by the owner himself under the influence of artifice or threats, it is in contemplation of law a burglary; for the law will not suffer its wholesome restraints to be evaded by the shifts and contrivances of a felon. Upon the subject of robbery from the person, it may be important for you to inquire, whether the money raised by a riotous assembly is to be considered, in the cases to which your attention will be drawn, as a voluntary contribution of the individuals from whom it was taken, or as extorted by violence, or under reasonable fear. In the consideration, however, of what amounts to this offence, it is not necessary to advert either to the time or place of its commission. To steal in a dwelling-house has been made a capital felony by many statutes, but it is necessary that the larceny should be actually committed. Without troubling you, however, by reciting a series of legislative enactments on this subject, I should advise you generally to return the several bills as they are presented to you, and leave any difficulty of legal construction to that more accurate investigation which it will afterwards receive in this place. On the nature of ordinary riots and breach of the public peace, you can require no instruction from me: but on every occasion, as well as the present, the Court will be happy to afford too all the assistance in its power. With regard to the description of proof which will be laid before you, there is but little to be remarked, further than that there is no reason to believe it will in most cases be satisfactory—the evidence of eye-witnesses upon facts done in open day and without any disguise, in some instances by neighbour upon neighbour, so bold and daring was the violation of the public peace. If the evidence of accomplices in these transactions should be offered to you, you will receive it with caution, and give credit to it only when confirmed or supported by more unexceptionable testimony. I cannot conclude this address without exhorting you to proceed with a calm and temperate, but with a firm and manly determination—on the one hand, not to conclude, from your Indignation at guilt, too hastily against the prisoners; and on the other, that the serious nature of the charges shall not deter you from presenting them to the justice of your country. It is of the highest importance to the peace and safety, not only of this isle, but of the surrounding country, that all who are present on this solemn inquiry, and all who read the account of its proceedings (and there are few parts of the kingdom in which it will not be read) may he convinced by the awful lesson which may here be taught, that whatever wild or chimerical notions may prevail of the power of an armed multitude, the law is too strong for its assailants: and that, however triumphant or destructive their sway for a few days, these who defy the law will ultimately be compelled to submit either to its justice or its mercy.”

[In the course of this eloquent charge, the learned Judge adverted to the meritorious conduct of Sir Henry Bate Dudley, Bart. to the judicious promptitude of whose personal exertions, and numerous inhabitants of Ely. the country was greatly indebted for its deliverance.] 

The Grand Jury then retired, and the Court adjourned till the next morning.—Messrs. Gurney, Bolland, and Richardson, were Counsel for the Crown, and Messrs. Hunt, Hart, and Whittred, for the prisoners.  

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