Randolph Branch, William Descent, Violent Theft > highway robbery, Killing > murder, 14th September 1752.

Reference Number: t17520914-70
Offences: Violent Theft > highway robbery; Killing > murder
Verdicts: Guilty; Guilty
Punishments: Death; Death; Death > executed

487, 488. (M.) Randolph Branch and William Descent , were indicted for that they, on the king's highway, on Joseph Brown did make an assault, putting him in corporal fear and danger of his life, one silver watch, val. 4 l. the property of John Sheen , and five shillings in money number'd, the money of the said Joseph, did steal, take, &c . August 9 .

Joseph Williams . On the 9th of August at night, about ten o'clock, I was standing at my own door in Wiltshire-lane, St. John's Wapping . I saw Joseph Brown , whom I knew before, lying>with his head fixed in the middle of the kennel on his right side; upon taking him up I found him all over of a gore blood, and made me as bloody as if I had dipt my hands in a pail of blood. He gave a very great sigh, I asked him if his name was Brown, he said yes. Then I asked him, if he lived at the sign of the King's Head, at Mr. Lowrey's, he said yes. I and the landlady of the King's Head took him there, which was about ten yards of, then Mr. Pell, a surgeon, was sent for, who came and dressed him. The landlady desired me to examine his breeches, which I did I turned the pockets, and found nothing but a pencil in a side pocket.

Francis Backwell . Mr. Brown was clerk at the brew-house where I belong. I heard of this melancholly affair of his being knock'd down and robbed. I went and found him alive, but in a very bad condition, in bed mangled, with his cloaths all extremely bloody, and speechless. His face all over black, his mouth so beat that it could hardly open, and all bloody; his head was bound up, the surgeon having been with him. I consulted a friend what to do in this affair; he told me, there were proper persons for that. After which there came five or six thief catchers to the brew-house, I told them I had a suspicion of a person : they took up one Spanish Jack (the person who was an accomplice with, and evidence against, Antho. de Rosa, for the murder of a man near the Barking Dogs) and brought him to the brew-house. He confessed he knew of the affair, and that four of them went out at that time upon the Scamp, as they call it. After that they took Branch and lock'd him up, then I went down with them to Deptford, and there they took up three more Descent was one of them. Coming up by water he acknowledged he was in the robbery, but denied he knock'd Mr. Brown down. We brought him up, and had him into a summer-house in the garden, he then said, he himself being-lame, Branch took the stick, being nimbler than he, ran up and knock'd him down at the corner of Virginia-street.

Q. Did he say this was upon Mr. Brown ?

Backwell. They acknowledged afterwards another attempt they made that night. I will not be positive whether they might mistake the one for the other, but I talked to him and Branch too of the affair of Brown only. Descent said, he robbed a gentleman near Well close square, of a watch and five shillings, but did not mention the name. We took them both before Justice Manwaring, where they wanted each of them to be admitted an evidence. His worship told them he would not admit either, if they had any thing to say before him they might. They were examined apart, each acknowledged this robbery. Descent was examined first, he said Branch knock'd him down. Branch, when he was examined, said Descent knock'd him down. Branch acknowledged that he himself took the watch and five shillings from him, and that he took three keys from his pocket, and afterwards flung them away. We found one in Well-close square, it was bloody. Mr. Brown had been out from the Sunday morning. I did not know that he had a watch, or what money he had about him.

Robert Pell . I am a surgeon. I was called in to attend Mr. Brown on Sunday the 9th of August, about eleven o'clock at night. I found him with several wounds on his head, one large one under his left eye; the arteries were divided, his head and face very much swelled. I thought the wounds must be given with nothing less then the bar of a window, as they appeared to be given with a blunt weapon, for they were bruises. I was the next day with him, then there came an account, that the people that were supposed to do it were taken. They were carried into a back room in the garden, there I saw Descent, Branch was not then in hearing, he acknowledged himself to be one of the people that did the fact. I desired he would let me know with what weapon these wounds were given, because it might be of some service to me in the course of my attendance in healing those wounds. There was a large oaken stick produced by one of the people that had taken him. Descent told me, he believed the gentlman was knock'd down with that stick (produced in court, it was a large oaken stick, quite out of size, being over large, with a knob to it). Descent also told me this piece was broke out in striking the blow (a splinter from out of the knob), the stick then was bloody. Descent then shew'd me his knees, and said, you see I am not fit to enter into these exploits, I got into the company of young Branch and he has lead me into the fact. I asked him how it was done, he said, they were coming along by the end of Virginia-street, and saw a gentleman before them.

Q. Did he mention the time of night?

Pell. I believe he did not. Upon seeing him. Descent said, that Branch snatch'd the stick out of his hand, and made use of such an expression as this, I will shew you how to knock a man down, upon which he knock'd the gentleman down. I was with him afterwards before Justice Manwaring, then they were examined apart; there Descent was pretty near in the same story. Branch I think, said, they were coming along, and either he or Descent said, there is a mark; upon which Descent went up, and gave him a wipe or a lick, or some such term, and kept paying him over the head, while I put my hand in his pocket and took out his watch and money. Then Mr. Backwell asked him about some keys, he said he had taken some but had thrown them away coming along.

Justice Manwaring. On Monday the tenth of August, in the afternoon, the two prisoners at the bar were brought before me. Mr. Backwell had told me he suspected they had done murder. I desired they might be kept back that I might examine them one by one. Descent was brought in first, I asked him what he had to say for himself about the charge laid against him in robbing and murdering Mr. Brown. He said he met Renney Branch at the house of Mrs. Stitchbourne in Rag fair, about five o'clock on Sunday night, who asked him to go into the fields. He went with him and one Roberts, from an alehouse where they had some beer. Going along they met a man and Branch knock'd him down in the fields, and took from him a knife and threepence; that he found fault with him for robbing the man, saying to him, if you want money I have money, why did you abuse him. After this they went into an alehouse, in Ratcliff-high-way, there Roberts left him, and betwixt nine and ten o'clock Branch and he went out together; and going by the end of Virginia-street, leading to Wiltshire-lane.

Q. to Williams. How far from Virginia-street did you find Mr. Brown lying?

Williams. Virginia-street is, I believe, about a hundred yards from Well-close square, and we found him about twenty yards from Virginia-street in Wiltshire-lane.

The Justice continues. Branch said to him with an imprecation, D - n his eyes, here is a mark, and twitched the stick out of his hand, stepped up to

the man, and knocked him down, and after he was down struck him several blows, but the man never spoke; he blamed him much for abusing the man. That Branch took his watch and money from him, and went away, and when he came to Mrs. Stitchbourne's, Branch offer'd the watch to her for thirty shillings, and I think made use of such an expression, that he had milled it; she took it and said she would pay him for it in the morning, and in the morning she gave him a guinea in gold, and four shillings in silver, and Branch gave him sixteen shillings of the money. He also said, Branch told, him he had given half a guinea to one Bett Thomas, to go and get a pair of pistols to go upon the lay with the next day. When Descent was carried out, and Branch brought in, I asked him in the same manner what he had to say for himself; he came in with a good deal of courage, and wanted to know whether I would admit him an evidence. I said if he had any thing to say, he might say it freely and voluntarily, I'd lay no injunctions upon him, nor give him any encouragements. Then he said, Descent, Roberts, and he, were at the house of one Sergeant, at Prince Frederick's head, in Rag Fair; that those three went out together into the fields. As they went along they met a man, that Descent gave him a knock on the pate with a stick, and took from him three pence and a knife. That they went from thence into Ratcliff Highway to an alehouse. That there Wat Roberts left them. About nine or ten they went from that house ; and as they were going along, Descent said to him, with several imprecations, the first man he met he'd knock his brains out if he had no more money than the man they met before. When they came a little beyond the end of Virginia-street, they met a man. Descent knock'd him down, and he never spoke afterwards. He hit him several blows after he was down, and bid him [that is Branch] take out his watch and money, which he said he did. That he blamed him for beating the man so much, and desired him to let him alone. Then they went into Well Close Square; there they met a man and knocked him down. That he cried out, and the neighbours got to their doors; so they ran away, and got nothing from him.

John Sheen. I lent Joseph Brown a silver watch about three weeks before he was robbed.

Steven Macdonald produces a watch.

Sheen [He looks upon it.] This is my watch, which I had lent to Mr. Brown.

Macdonald. On the Monday after the robbery I went to Stitchbourne's house; there Branch was in bed, just getting up. Descent had made his escape to Deptford. After we had secured Branch in a place of safety, we went to Deptford and found Descent; after Branch was carried to the Tower jail. He bid me take up Mrs. Stitchbourne, and wanted to be admitted an evidence. He told me the watch was disposed of to Mrs. Stitchbourne for twenty-four or twenty-five shillings. Descent said at Deptford, he wish'd he could be made an evidence, and that he sold the watch for twenty-five shillings to Stitchbourne. I took Stitchbourne up; the justice ordered us to keep her by herself, and so to come at the watch. I kept her a day at my room; she sent a girl for the watch, who brought it and delivered it to her and me, she wanted to have me swear against the girl; she own'd she bought it for twenty five shillings.

Elizabeth Hall. I lived at Mrs. Stitchbourne's, Branch and Descent came there about five o'clock the ninth of August, in the afternoon, and asked if she would buy any thing if they could steal it; she said she had trusted to Branch, and might as well again as before, as he had had it in his power to hurt her, and did not. They came again the same night between ten and eleven, all in a sweat; I was standing at the door talking to three young fellows. The prisoners went into the house, and to the inward room to my mistress: the young fellows went and peeped through a crack in the window shutter. I went in and bid my mistress draw the curtain; she was looking at the works of a silver watch; after that they called for a pint of beer. Mary Dormer , a lodger in the house, fetch'd it from the alehouse, and I was ordered to bring it into the room, which I did. I heard them ask thirty shillings for the watch, and heard her say, no, but five and twenty. They lay at that house ; after they went up to bed, they had words. Descent charged Branch with having two watches; I thought they would have went to fighting. Spanish Jack went up with intent to part them, and heard their whole discourse. I saw Mrs. Stitchbourne the next morning give them a golden guinea, and said she would make it up another time ; I went and changed the guinea, and gave the money into Branch's hands. I brought half a pint of rum. Branch had sixteen shillings and six pence.

Alice Dormer . I lived at Mrs. Stitchbourne's, and remember the prisoners coming on a Sunday in August, about five o'clock. I was lying with my head upon, the table, and Mrs. Stitchbourne was in bed. They went into the room to her; I heard them say they were to go out upon the lay,

and ask whether, if they brought any thing, she would buy it. She said, yes. Branch said, Suppose I was to bring a tankard or two, or a watch, will you buy them? Yes, she said, she would; for if she had not money, she could have it of a neighbour. Betwixt ten and eleven, Elizabeth Hall and I, and three butchers, were standing at the door talking; the prisoners came rushing in, and went into Mrs. Stitchbourne's room; she called me to go and get a pot of beer, and give it to Betty Thomas to bring in. On the Thursday following she was at Mr. Macdonald's house ; she sent to me in the morning to bring her a clean gown, I had not returned home above a quarter of an hour before she sent a boy to desire me to come up again : then she desired me to go and get a watch of Peggy Lloyd in Drury-lane, which I did.

Walter Roberts . On Sunday the ninth of August, about eight at night, the two prisoners and I were together. In the middle of the fields they stopp'd a man, and took from him some halfpence and a knife. Then we went into Ratcliff Highway, and called for some beer; there I left them. About five or six stones throw from Well Close Square, a little before nine, they both had sticks in their hands; Descent had the large stick produced here, which he shewed to me the next morning after he had knocked down the brewer's clerk, and said a splinter came out here at the time ( puting his finger to an open place in the nob.) That he beat him over the head, and took a watch and some silver from him.

Edward Holt . On Sunday the ninth of August, the two prisoners were coming through Well Close Square. I saw Branch for one, and he bid me stand. I endeavoured to give him a blow with my cane. At the same time there came up one or two of his accomplices and knocked me down; but people coming to my assistance, they ran away without taking any thing from me. He shewed two large scars on the left side of his head, the wounds made at that time.

Joseph Crane . I parted, with Descent the ninth of August, in the back lane near Well Close Square. In the morning we appointed to meet, to go to Deptford. I came according to my promise in the morning; he called up Roberts, between eight and nine o'clock; at Prince Frederick's head. When we were there, a man said a robbery had been committed near Well Close Square, and the man so beat that he was not likely to live. Going along, Descent shewed me the stick, and a piece out of the head of it, and when we came to take water, he shew'd it me again, and said, It was I that did that job in Well Close Square last night.

Q. What did you understand by that job?

Crane. I understood it to be what the man said in the alehouse of abusing a man.

Descent's Defence.

I went away out of the back lane about four o'clock that afternoon, and lay on ship at Deptford all night. I went with intent to enter on board her. There I met with some of my shipmates. and was drinking a pot of beer next morning, when they came and took me.

Branch's defence.

I came into Mrs. Stitchbourne's house in the evening, there was Bett Thomas. (Note, that is Elizabeth Hall, who has went by several names.) I went to bed with her, and remained there till seven the next morning; then came in Nat Harris , and said, Your servant; after that came in Thomas Stanley and Macdonald, and laid hold on me. Macdonald pulled out a pistol. and said, D - n you, if you don't confess I'll blow your brains out. Then they took me to a spunging house and got me very much in liquor, so that I don't know what I said.

Q. to Elizabeth Hall . Did he (Branch) lie with you that night?

Elizabeth Hall. They lay both together till five o'clock the next morning.

Both Guilty Death .

They were both indicted a second time for the wilful murder of Joseph Brown . August the ninth .

Joseph Williams , Mr. Pell, Justice Manwaring, Stephen Macdonald , Walter Roberts , and Joseph Crane , were examined over again, and deposed as in the former trial.

Mr. Pell was here more particular as to the wounds of the deceased, as follows:

Mr. Pell. I found the deceased bleeding, his head and face very much bruised, and several large wounds on his head; one under the left eye, the temporary artery was divided, the wounds seemed to be done with a blunt weapon, they were what we call contused wounds. I put up the divided vessels, stopped the effusion of blood, and made use of restringent applications, dressed him and left him till next day. I then desired the assistance of another surgeon, and Mr. Harrison, surgeon of the

London hospital, was called in; I open'd the man's head. After removing the rollers, the first thing that offered itself to our view was part of the brains lying on the hair on the outside of his head, just above the temple on the left side. Upon this, with the advice of Mr. Harrison, I made a large incision about five inches in length, in a semicircular shape, taking in best part of his forehead, and separated the scalp from the scull. When we had done this things observed a prodigious fracture of the scull, the Biggest that ever I saw; it was broke into many pieces, several of which I extracted. I believe one (spike or splinter ) was drove two inches into the brain. We suffered a bone to remain, fearing the whole of the brain would come out. The man lay under great and horrible pain, which induced us to shorten the work. Every day after in the course of my attendance, I hardly dressed him without taking out more pieces of the scull, that pressed in upon the substance of the brain. The third day I discovered a large piece of bone loose, down the forehead, the fracture running down the forehead ; there was a discharge of the brain from the inside. In a few hours after the extraction of this bone he recovered his senses, which was on the third day. Before he lay as it were in a stupified way. I was very particular in asking him what he remembered of his being so used, and he always said, the first of it he remembered was my first dressing him ; he remembered nothing of what was done to him at the time of the robbery. He died last Monday was se'nnight, which was the 31st; he was dying four days. We had so great a discharge of the brain towards the latter end, that I did not care to open it. After he was dead, I opened him in Mr. Harrison's presence; upon taking the upper part of the scull from the under, out of six bones which the scull is composed of, I found four of them fractured; the bone of his nose was broke from that of the forehead. His left cheek bone was broke, the fracture of which must be by a violent blow; for this bone is less liable to a fracture than any other in the body ; all the left side of the brain, which we call the left hemisphere, was absolutely dissolved by a mortification. I opened his body, and found all the bowels bid fair for a vigorous old age.

Q. Upon the whole do you, or do you not believe these wounds were the cause of his death?

Pell. No doubt but he died of these blows he had received about the head.

Both guilty Death .

They received sentence immediately, which was on Wednesday, and were executed on the Friday following . *

* For Branch, see No. 474. and the indictment of No. 25. in the mayoralty of Alderman Cokayne; also No. 323. in last paper.

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