Tuesday, 9 August 2016

9th August 1816: The Judge at Bury Assizes gives death sentences to 'Bread or Blood' arsonists

The Bury St Edmunds Summer Assizes commenced on Friday 9th August 1816, and saw a number of prisoners face trial for offences committed during the previous months in Suffolk.

A number of cases failed, or were postponed, as noted by the Bury & Norwich Post of 14th August 1816:
No true bills were found by the grand jury against Thos. Baker, for setting fire to a barn at Kettlebaston, or Susan Bruty, for setting fire to a building belonging to J. Skelton, of Clare.—The trials of the nine Brandon rioters were traversed to the next Assizes.
However, the main spectacle was reserved for the trials of two arsonists, and the same edition of the paper gave extensive coverage to these:


Trials of the Two Incendiaries.
James Pleasants, a boy of 15 years of age, was indicted for having feloniously set fire to a barn in the parish of Lawhall, in the occupation of Mr. Thomas Bradley, a farmer, by which the same and other buildings were destroyed by fire on the 12th of May last. The only witness in this case, in addition to the prisoner’s confession, was a little girl about 15 years of age, in the service of Mr. Bradley. She stated that during the divine service on the 12th of May, she was left at home with the prisoner and her mistress, who was ill up stairs, her master being on a visit to Mr. Reman, a neighbour adjoining.—The witness had been cleaning knives, and doing dirty work, for which she had occasion to put some water on the fire in a back kitchen, for the purpose of washing her hands: the prisoner was then present by the fire, when he observed to the witness, "why don't you go up stairs and put on your cloathes."—Witness replied it was wet and she should not change her dress that day. She took the water from the fire to the sink in the same apartment, and on turning her back, the prisoner left the kitchen; she did not see that he had any thing in his hand, but soon after he returned, saying, "the barn is on fire." This the witness was soon enabled to perceive from a great quantity of smoke issuing, and immediately after she observed the place all in flames. She instantly ran out and gave the alarm. The boy ran towards the church, thinking his master was there. He, however, accidentally met his master by the way, who by this time saw with great alarm the situation at his premises. There were several good and valuable horses, together with several cows and calves, besides other stock, which were totally consumed. The flames, however, did not reach the dwelling-house, from the timely assistance of the neighbours. When the prisoner was apprehended, he voluntarily confessed that he had conveyed in his glove a coal of fire from the back kitchen to the barn, where he threw it amongst some wheat in the straw. This confession was recorded by the magistrates, who thereupon committed him for trial.—It further appeared, that an anonymous letter containing threats to three persons in the neighbourhood had been previously picked up by the prisoner. That letter said, "the Magistrate was no Justice, and that he should be the first to suffer." But by whom that letter was written had never been discovered.—The prisoner being asked what he had to say in his defence, wept bitterly, and in a low voice which could only be heard by the gaoler, stated that this confession had been extorted from him under a threat from some person, that if he did not confess the crime, or say who did it, he should be scalded to death, and that it was under an impression of fear that he had so confessed. The magistrates being examined whether any such disclosure or threat was made at the time of his commitment, completely negatived that statement.—The prisoner was found guilty, but on account of his youth, recommended by the Jury to mercy. 
Joseph Bugg was capitally convicted of setting fire to a barn and a cart-lodge, in the occupation of Mr Jas. Glanfield, at Martlesham-hall. The prosecutor stated, that he rented the farm and premises under the Rev. Geo. Doughty, of Hoxne. He left his house on the 23d of April, with his wife, on a visit to a neighbour, and returned at 12 o'clock at night, when the premises were all safe. As he had walked from home, and did not expect to return very early, he left directions with the servants not to sit up for him. About an hour after his return, he was awakened out of his sleep by a cry of "fire!" and, looking out of his chamber window, saw the barn on fire. He immediately went down stairs, and saw that the cart-lodge was also on fire, and the roof was just falling in. These outbuildings were distant about 150 yards from his house. The night was calm, and the flame from the buildings, which were considerably apart, arose in an upright direction.—There were 80 coombs of barley in the barn, chiefly in the straw, and most of his farming implements in the cart-lodge, the whole of which were destroyed. Eliz. Hammond, who lived servant at Waldringfield Cliff public-house, was next examined. She stated, that the prisoner was there on the night the fire happened; he came about 6 o'clock in the evening, and drank with several others, all of whom went away before him. He staid until a little time after a quarter past 12, and went away then, upon her refusing to let him have any more beer. She had supplied the prisoner with a half-quartern of rum, 2 pints of old beer, five or six pints of other beer, with a half-quartern of gin in each. On cross examination, she admitted that, altho’ the prisoner had had part of this in the first instance, subsequently they had all drunk together. The next witness was ____ Rouse, who stated that he lived at Martlesham, and have known Bugg ever since he was a boy. On the night of the fire, the prisoner called at his house between twelve and one; his wife, who heard the prisoner call out to know whether he was at home, awoke him. On his getting up, the prisoner asked him if he could lend him a tinder-box and steel, which he at first denied, as he should want it himself in the morning; on a promise, however, that it should be then returned, he gave them to him. When the prisoner had gone three or four yards from the window, he called out to the witness, "don't tell any body!"—Directly upon hearing of the fire, he went and acquainted Mr. Glanfield of this circumstance. Witness’s house is nearly three-quarters of a mile out of the direct path from the Cliff public-house to the prisoner’s. The tinder-box was returned in the morning. He thought the prisoner wanted a tinder-box because there were gipsies in the neighbourhood. A young man, servant to Mr. Cattermole, next deposed, that when in conversation with one John Barber, on a Sunday, upon a stile, near the Lion at Martlesham, the prisoner came up to them; and in talking about work, the prisoner observed, that the farmers in the parish were all damn’d rogues, especially Mr. Glanfield; he would do them a kindness, and he (Mr. Glanfield) should be the first.—Mr. John Cook, a farmer, residing at Bucklesham, about four miles from Martlesham, but occupying a farm in that parish, stated that Bugg had formerly worked with him; that in March last, on being sent to work in the roads, he complained of Mr. James Glanfield, saying, it might bethank him that men were posted about from parish to parish. He thought Mr. G. the worst of them all; and he should not wonder if something were to happen to him before long.—The prisoner, on being called upon for his defence, said, that he drank all the liquor himself.—The learned Judge, in summing up the evidence, remarked, that in the species of crime with which the prisoner stood charged, it was by circumstantial evidence alone, that conviction could be founded; it was not likely that a man having such a diabolical purpose in view, should have any accomplices in the act. His Lordship took great pains to point out the connecting chain of evidence upon which the guilt of the prisoner might reasonably be presumed; and, after some pertinent remarks on the heinousness of the offence, and the necessity of preventing its recurrence, by example, he left the case for the consideration of the Jury. He concluded by noticing, that, as he had hinted before, the evidence was only presumptive, and in such a case, could only be so, the Jury would therefore give the prisoner the benefit of any doubt which really existed in their minds.—It was not, however, the province of a Jury, with the view to exonerate themselves from such a painful duty, to fabricate doubts, but to deliver such a verdict as the evidence of the case, in all its bearings, might lead them to. The Jury returned a verdict—Guilty, but recommended the prisoner to mercy.
The paper also recorded Sir Vicary Gibbs' sentencing:
Sentence passed on Prisoners capitally convicted.—Chief Justice Gibbs, in passing sentence, addressed the prisoner Bugg, expressing his regret at the situation in which this unhappy man was placed, by the heinous offence of which he had been convicted, on such clear evidence as that which had been adduced against him.—The learned Judge said he could not see the slightest hope which the prisoner could entertain of any thing like reprieve or pardon, from the awful severity which the law had denounced against his crime by way of punishment; and, for the sake of example, to deter others from committing the like offences; that sentence, however painful, yet towards a criminal like him, it was his Lordship's duty to pronounce. From the depravity and wickedness which the nature of the crime evinced, it was justly ordained that it should be expiated by the death of the culprit. The pretence of not knowing right from wrong could not avail the prisoner, whose years and experience must have taught him to view the extent of enormity which belonged to the crime of which he was convicted by a Jury. 
His Lordship next addressed James Pleasants, whose youth excited a great degree of compassion in the mind of the Judge, being under the necessity of passing sentence of death upon him for the same offence. His Lordship said, it was astonishing that such a degree of malignity should have entered the heart of a boy at his early age, whose depravity on that account was the more to be lamented. The Jury, on this consideration, and in hopes he might yet live to repent, the more sincerely as he advanced in years, were disposed to rescue him from an ignominious and untimely death, by recommending him to mercy; and although it was the Judge’s duty to pronounce the sentence of the law, corresponding with the magnitude of the offence, his Lordship was in hopes that by conforming to the recommendation of the Jury his life might be spared, in order that he might become a penitent, and at some future period, a useful and industrious member of the community, by seriously reflecting, that death was the least punishment which must await the commission of an heinous offence.
Before he left Suffolk for Norfolk, Gibbs reprieved Plesants, but left Bugg to hang.

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