Sunday, 19 June 2016

19th June 1816: Day 3 of the Ely Special Commission

The Bury & Norwich Post continued their coverage of the Ely Special Commission:


John Dennis, F. Hopkins, James Cammell, John Jefferson, and Richard Rutter were put to the bar, and indicted for stealing from the dwelling house of Robert Edwards, of Ely, the sum of 50l. in bankers’ cash notes.

Mr. Gurney requested the serious attention of the jury to this case, and after stating the facts afterwards proved in evidence, called the following witnesses;:

Margaret Rickwood said her husband was a miller, resident in the town of Ely. She saw the mob at her door between eight and nine o'clock on the morning of the 23d. Dennis was among eight or nine others who came into the house. He had a gun in his hand, which she was positive had a lock to it; others carried stable-forks and bludgeons. They asked for her husband, who was not at home. She told them she did not know where he was, and inquired what was their wish. Somebody replied, they must have 50l. or the house and mill would come down immediately. She said, "My good men, you shall have it, but don't break destroy any thing." She desired her son to go to Mr. Edwards’s, and get 50l. from his bank immediately. Before his return, Dennis said, he could not quell the mob if the money was not forthcoming, and she then heard two or three of the windows crack on the outside. She exclaimed, "You shall have the money for I see I am going to ruin." She went up Broad-street with them to the bank, but seeing the mob demolishing her windows, said, she would go no further, unless they were restrained from doing further mischief. Some them brought them away, saying, "Come along, we are going for the money." On her way, she met Mr. Edwards to whom she communicated her purpose. He desired her to take his arm, said, if there were a thousand of them they should not have a penny. She begged him to let them have the money, as it was impossible to pacify them otherwise, when a person whom she did not know struck Mr. Edwards on the head, and the blood followed. Mr. Edwards afterwards observed, that if the money must be paid, they must send three persons into the house to receive it; and the three were, Dennis, Hopkins, & Sanderson, (last not in custody.)

Robert Edwards stated that he was chief constable of Ely, and agent there for Messrs. Mortlock and Son, bankers, of Cambridge. The mob arrived at Ely between 5 and 6 o'clock in the morning of the 23d. their numbers might amount to about 200, they came from the Littleport road. Most of them were armed either with guns, bludgeons, or stable forks. They brought with them a waggon drawn by two horses, and mounted with large fowlers’ guns, which projected forwards, and commanded the street. They were assembled in the market-place, when the younger Rickwood came to him with a message from his mother. He took his staff, and proceeded towards the house. Having met them, he asked them what authority they had to demand 50l. This question was answered with a general cry of "we will have it," and he was immediately struck on the head by some person with a bludgeon. Finding himself likely to be assailed by others, he went back, and the mob followed him, shouting all the way. He placed his back against the door of his house, resolved at that time that they should not enter, and desired his family to remain within. They drew round him, and he received a second blow; when, conceiving himself to be imminent danger of his life, he thought it necessary to submit, and he desired that three of them would come in and receive the money for the rest. Dennis exclaimed "I'll go for Littleport." He considered, however, that Dennis was of service to him in preventing the mob from doing him any injury, and he observed in general that he made great exertions to restrain them. One very turbulent person in particular was repressed by him from the commission of mischief. He heard the prisoner Hopkins say he would take for Downham, and Sanderson for Ely. They came into his shop; when he told them that they have made a very improper demand, and before he gave them the money he must have their names. There was a fourth person present, and Dennis mentioned the name either of Wilson or Burridge, but not his own. He then gave to each of the remaining three 16 one pound notes and 13s. and, holding the remaining shilling in his hand, he asked who was to receive that. They said it must be equally divided, and he accordingly gave them each a groat in copper. The mob then quitted the place peaceably. He gave the money not only at the express desire of Mrs. Rickwood, but from fear for his own person and property. He was agent to Messrs. Mortlock, to whom he was responsible.

The Rev. G. Miller observed the prisoner Jefferson very active among the rioters at Mr. Edwards’s house, and crying "go it, go it." The mob after receiving the money, at which the witness was present, went away.

The Rev. Mr. Metcalfe, a magistrate of Ely, stated that he went out to meet the mob, and met them about three-quarters of a mile from the town. They brought with them a waggon, upon which were mounted several guns with their muzzles projected. He desired to know what was the reason of this disorderly conduct, and they replied they came for redress from the magistrates. He told them that their complaint should be examined by the overseers, if they conducted themselves peaceably. They said they did not come to hurt any body. He was not certain that Cammell was among them.

Wm. Marshall saw the rioters enter the town, and all the five prisoners among them. He remonstrated, when Rutter said 2s. a day would not do; they must also have beer at 2d. a pint.

The Rev. Mr. Law, a magistrate of Ely, saw Jefferson and Rutter among the mob. He entreated Rutter to go home, which he refused to do, and said he might as well be hanged than starve. They might, if they pleased, hang him up on the next thorn-bush.

Mary Howe was in the service of the prisoner Dennis. She recollected the mob coming to her master's house on the night of the 22d, and asking for bullets. They came armed three times, and said Dennis must go with them. Under cross-examination she said her master was in bed when they came, and that he went with them reluctantly. They said they would shoot him if he did not go.

The prisoner Dennis, in his defence gave a recital of the circumstances in the evidence, for the purpose of showing that he had acted under constraint.

Mr. Hunt submitted, that the capital part of the charge could not be maintained, as no legal property had been proved to vest in Edwards. The Court reserved the objection, but considered in the mean time that their case ought to be submitted to the jury.

Mr. Justice Abbott recapitulated the evidence to the jury, and observed, that if they should be of opinion that Mr. Edwards was induced to part with the money from the violence actually used towards him, and from the fear of greater violence, it was not material whether it was the money of Rickwood, or of the bankers, or of Mr. Edwards; he was the person in possession of the property, and in point of law the prisoners could not say it was not his property, but that of another. The indictment, however, was so framed, as to meet the case in every view. Dennis, in his defence, had said, that he was not a free and voluntary agent, but took part with the mob from fear of violence; but it was incumbent on a person to show most clearly and satisfactorily, not merely that he was in the outset forced to join an unlawful assembly, but that he continued in it only so long as that force was upon him. They would judge from the evidence, whether the prisoner had made out a case of that nature. Several witnesses had been called to his character; but it was proper to observe, that however peaceable he might have been at Littleport the night before, he must be answerable for his conduct on the day laid in the indictment. As to character, it could not have any weight with the verdict of a jury, if his guilt was clearly established. With regard to Hopkins, if they thought that his real object was to afford Mrs. Rickwood protection, they would acquit him, and if they doubted that statement, they would give him the benefit of good character which he had received. It was not material whether Cammell, Jefferson, or Rutter came in with the mob or not, if they took part with them after.

The jury deliberated for some time, and then returned the following verdict:—Dennis, Guilty; Hopkins, Not Guilty; Cammell, Not Guilty; Jefferson, Guilty; Rutter, Guilty.

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