Saturday, 21 July 2012

21st July 1812: The trial of the Sheffield rioters, at York Summer Assizes

The Leeds Mercury of 25th July 1812 covered the trial of some of the Sheffield rioters at the York Summer Assizes, which took place on Tuesday, 21st July.
JOSEPH WOLSTENHOLME (aged 17), JOHN ROWAN (aged 15), WILLIAM RODGERS (aged 16), and MARY GIBBONS (aged 48), were charged with a misdemeanour, in riotously assembling, and breaking into the depot of the Local Militia, at Sheffield.

Mr. PARK stated the case to the Jury. He observed that the Prisoners had been leniently dealt with by Government, as they might have been indicted for an offence, the consequence of which would have been much more penal.

We shall state, in as few words as possible, from the evidence of the witnesses, all the material facts developed in the course of the trial.

Thomas Flathes, a serjeant in the Sheffield Local Militia, and he lived near the depot, stated, that about three o'clock in the afternoon of the 14th of April last, he saw about five or six men, and about forty or fifty boys, coming towards the depot, which is a short distance from the town of Sheffield; when they got to the turnpike-bar, within about thirty yards of the building, they halted, and were joined by an immense mob, four or five thousand persons; after a silence of a few minutes, he observed a number of hands held up, and pointing to the arms in the depot; the signal was answered by a general discharge of stones at the windows of the depot, which were almost instantly demolished. The rioters, emboldened by this success, entered the court of the depot, and renewed the attack, throwing stones into the interior of the building; a shout was then set up by some few voices in the crowd, “all in a mind to enter;” the door of the depot was then forced, by means of a very large stone taken from the wall, and one of the rioters attempted to enter; the Witness, who had a musket, with his bayonet fixed, now came out of the depot, where he had been with Captain Best, and presented his peace, threatening to run him through if he did not desist; the rioters, upon this retreated, and the Witness stood for some time on the steps in front of the depot, but being assailed by stones, he thought it prudent to retire into his own house, which adjoins the depot, and where he had a wife and three young children. Having taken his family into an upper room, he looked at the rioters from the window; they were throwing arms out of the store-rooms, and breaking them; he observed one man break twelve pieces against the wall.—Witness saw the prisoner Wolstenholme amongst the crowd, but did not see him do any mischief; he was standing still. About twenty minutes elapsed from the attack upon the depot to the arrival of the dragoons; on the arrival of which the mob instantly dispersed. The number of arms destroyed was about three hundred. The depot contain 900 stand of arms, and 900 suits of clothing.

This was the general evidence as to the riot, and was the only evidence against Wolstenholme, which Mr. Park admitted to be insufficient, and consented that he should be acquitted.

The evidence against John Rowan was this. He was seen, after the rioters were dispersed, coming out of the depot; and a boy of the name of Savage stated, that he had seen Rowan during the riot with a musket in his hand, and, that he had asked him, the Witness, to assist in breaking them; but it appeared, on his cross-examination, that the Witness, previous to is making this charge, had been accused by Rowan of being active in the riot.—Rowan had a most excellent character given him by a number of most respectable Witnesses; and Mr. Park remarked, that the countenance of the boy corroborated their testimony; and his Lordship, or remarking on this case, said, no person, in or out of Court, could desire a better character.—The Jury, after a short consultation, acquitted him.

William Rodgers was found lying under a hedge, with a military sword near him, concealed bu his apron, at the time when the rioters were flying in all directions from the military.

Mary Gibbons, a few minutes after the arrival of the military, was seen by the constable running from the depot with a parcel, which she dropped on seeing the constable. On examining this parcel, it was found to consist of two pair of military pantaloons, and a pair of gaiters, which were proved to have been taken away from the depot.

His Lordship, in his observations on this case, said, as the prisoner had given no account how she came to be possessed of these articles, and as she had them in her possession a very short time after the depot was broken into, and from which place she appeared to be running, it raised the presumption that she was present at the riot. His Lordship again repeated the sentiment contained in his charge, that no person could be innocently present at a riot, unless he was endeavouring to quell it.

The Jury acquitted Joseph Wolstenholme and John Rowan; and found William Rodgers and Mary Gibbons—Guilty.

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