Thursday, 29 November 2012

29th November 1812: The Solicitor to the Treasury, Henry Hobhouse, gives his view of the cases for the York Assizes

Nov. 29. 1812.


Having concluded my Enquiry undertaken by the Directions of Lord Viscount Sidmouth into the Cases of the Prisoners committed to the Gaol at York for Trial on Charges arising out of the disturbed State of the West Riding, I have the Honour to lay before you for his Lordship’s Information the Result of that Enquiry.

The most prominent & important Case that of the Murder of Mr. Wm. Horsfall, for which Offence three Prisoners, Mellor, Thorpe, & T. Smith, are committed on the Evidence of an Accomplice Benjm. Walker. It appears to me to be very satisfactorily established that these four men were the only ones immediately concerned in that Murder; & as the Testimony of the Accomplice is concerned in material points both prior to & posterior to the Murder, I think there is no room to apprehend any Failure in this Prosecution. As B. Walker is a Prisoner at Chester, & I of course could not examine him myself without going to Chester for the purpose, it became matter of Consideration whether or not I should travel so great a Distance for that sole Object. The importance of his Testimony at first inclined me to do so. But as his Confession is in itself very perspicuous, & I had a concurrent opinion of several Persons with whom I separately conversed that he gave his Evidence with respect to this Offence without reserve, & I had no doubt of the Truth of his Narrative, I finally determined that an Extension of my Journey to Chester would probably not be attended with any good Effect.

The same three Prisoners appear to have been the principal Actors not only in this, but in the greater part of the other Offences committed in the immediate Vicinity of Huddersfield, for they are implicated more or less in no fewer than thirteen other capital charges of breaking machinery & stealing arms.

Sixteen of the Prisoners, including the three before mentioned, are charged with a felonious Attack on the Mill of Mr. Cartwright in April last, when the mob were repulsed. Against the majority of this number the sole Evidence is an Accomplice named Wm. Hall, but he is confirmed as to some of them so materially that the Conviction of at least three or four may I think be reasonably expected.

The same Witness Hall, who certainly took a very active part in the Disturbances, is also the principal Witness in most of the other cases in which Mellor & Thorpe were the Ringleaders, as well as in some where they were not present. On his Evidence will principally rest eleven Cases of breaking Shearing-Frames, in each of which more or fewer of twelve Prisoners* are charged. In some of these he is wholly unsupported by other Testimony; in others there is corroborative Evidence against some of those whom he charges, but it consists chiefly of the Account given by B. Walker (the Murderer) another Accomplice, & therefore I can not venture in any one of these Cases to look for a Conviction without any great degree of Confidence; more particularly as I understand that Walker though he gives his Testimony freely with regard to the Murder, shews great Reluctance in giving it in any other Cases, on the ground (as I am told) that next to Mellor & Thorpe he feels himself to be one of the worst of the Gang, & therefore considers the his fellow delinquents to have been brought into their present situation in great measure by himself.

[Brooks Beaumont & others)

Another Gang, consisting of [number] Prisoners who were committed before the Judges left York at the last Assizes, can only be convicted upon the Evidence of an Accomplice named Barrowclough, who gives his Testimony is so unsatisfactory a manner, that I very greatly doubt whether it will be adviseable to prefer any Indictment upon it. He prefers four Charges, in only one of which is there any other Evidence as to the Identity of the Prisoners except Barrowclough. In that one case the Accomplice Hall fixes the same Offence on other Prisoners, which might at first sight appear rather to invalidate Barrowclough’s Story, but upon Enquiry I find the two Accounts to be consistent, because Hall & Barraclough belong to separate Gangs, who met on the night in question; & though they had a common Object, werel not well acquainted with each others’ Names & Persons.

Against two the Gang impeached by Barrowclough, there has been discovered since their Commitment a Charge not spoken to by him, which at first promised to be a good Case, but the Description given of the Persons of the Offenders by a witness whom I examined while at Huddersfield throws much Doubt on the Identity of one of them; & unless this Doubt can be cleared up by the Reexamination of the Witness by whom the charge was first referred (whose Attendance I was unable to procure while I remained in Yorkshire), this Offence can not be made the subject of Prosecution.

[Swallow & others.]

Five other Prisoners, making part of a Gang from Horbury near Wakefield, stand charged with six Robberies upon the Evidence of an Accomplice named Parkin, whom I was unable to examine, because he was prevented by a broken Leg from coming to me, & my going to him might have exposed him to the observation of his Enemies. In one of the Cases, implicating four of the five Prisoners, some material corroborative Evidence can be given, which I think is likely to lead to a Conviction. In the others of this Set of cases no material confirmation of Parkin has yet been obtained, but I have left directions that it shall be sought for, & am not without hopes that it may be found. Upon this set of cases I think it right to observe, that the Robberies appear to have been committed rather by a Gang to avail themselves of the popular Prejudices of the Country to commit general Plunder, than by those who confine themselves to the stealing of Arms.

[Baines & others.]

Five Prisoners from Halifax have been committed from administering an unlawful Oath prior to the Act of the last Session, upon the Evidence upon of two men who were employed to procure Information. And two of them are further charged on the like Testimony with ripping Lead from the Roof of a House and stealing it.


One other Prisoner is charged with administering unlawful oath to a man of very bad Character, who came forward to take the Benefit of the Indemnity held forth by the Act of the last Session, & from the secret manner in wch the Oath was administered it is impossible there should be any other Evidence.

[Schofield, John.]

One Prisoner is charged with maliciously shooting at one Hinchliffe, whom he suspected of having given Information against him. The Prosecutor is a very reluctant one, & at first denied all Knowledge of the Prisoner. There are strong Circumstances of suspicion against him, but no direct Evidence except that of the Prosecutor, & therefore the result of the Prosecution must mainly depend on the manner in which Hinchliffe shall conduct himself at the Trial.

[Moorhouse & anr.]

There is a charge of Burglary against two other Prisoners, resting entirely on the Proof the Prisoners’ Identity given by the Prosecutor & his Son, of whom the former swears to one & the latter to both of the Prisoners. They set up an Alibi before the Magistrate, which was discredited by him; but as the Prisoners were both disguised, it is possible the Jury may not equally rely on the Testimony of the Witnesses.


A Prisoner who is committed for Felony in stealing Flouer by forcing the Prosecutor to sell it at an inferior Price, certainly can not be proved guilty that Offence; & if indicted at all, must be indicted for a Misdemeanour in inciting a Mob commit the Felony.

[Joseph Brook]

Against one other Prisoner, charged with Burglary the Proof appears to me likely to produce Conviction. It depends on positive Evidence of Identity given by the Prosecutor’s Servant Girl, assisted by some slight Circumstances of Suspicion against the Prisoner.


The only remaining Prisoner from the Vicinity of Huddersfield is one, who is charged with inciting two Soldiers of the Stirlingshire Militia to assist in a Scheme the blowing up Mr. Cartwright’s Mill with Gunpowder since the Failure of the Mob’s Attack on that Building.

[Eadon.] [Cookson.]

It only remains to me to mention two Prisoners from Barnsley, one of whom is charged with administering an unlawful Oath under the old Act, & both of them with a similar Offence under the new Act. The Witnesses having been removed into Shropshire for Security, I have not seen them, & I can therefore can only judge of the Cases from the Depositions, which appear to me to afford the Probability of Conviction.

I have [etc]

H Hobhouse

*most of these are also implicated in the Felony at Cartwrights.

[To] J Beckett Esq
&c &c &c

This letter can be found at HO 42/129.

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