Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 6.0, 20 September 2014), June 1747, trial of RicHARD ASHCROFT (t17470604-13).

RicHARD ASHCROFT, Royal Offences > tax offences, 4th June 1747.

246. RicHARD ASHCROFT was indicted for unlawfully and feloniously, together with other Persons, to the Number of Thirty, unknown, assembling, and gathering themselves together at East-Bourne in the County of Sussex , on the 14th of September last, being armed with Fire Arms, and other offensive Weapons, in order to be aiding and assisting in the running and carrying away uncustomed Goods, and Goods liable to pay Duties, which have never been paid or secur'd .

And for unlawfully, riotously, routously and feloniously making an Assault and a Fray, upon Thomas Mortimer , Thomas Hust , Thomas Smith , Joseph Simpson , and Thomas Fletcher , being Officers of our Lord the King of the Customs, and the due Execution of the said several and respective Officers in the due seizing and securing several Parcels of uncustomed Goods, and Goods liable to pay Duties.

And for unlawfully, riotously, feloniously obstructing, opposing, and resisting the said several Officers, in the due Execution of their said several and respective Officers.

And for unlawfully, riotously, routously and feloniously assembling, and gathering together, in order to be aiding and assisting in running and carrying away uncustomed Goods, and Goods being liable to pay Duties, which have not been paid or secur'd, against the Statute.

And for unlawfully, forceably and feloniously hindering, obstructing, assaulting and resisting, the said several Officers of his Majesty's Customs, in the due Execution of their said several and respective Officers, in the due seizing and securing several Parcels of uncustomed Goods, and Goods liable to pay Duties, which have not been paid or secur'd, against the Statute.

Attorney General. May it please your Lordship , and you Gentlemen of the Jury, the Prisoner at the Bar, stands indicted for a Crime of a very high Nature, considered in itself, and made particularly Felony by a late Act of Parliament, for the Preservation of the Constitution, and the general Peace of the Kingdom. He stands indicted, Gentlemen, upon an Act made the 19th of his present Majesty, the last Session of Parliament; and it was made, Gentlemen, in order to prevent a Practice which has been growing upon the Publick, Persons being concerned in the Running of Goods not only confining themselves to that Practice, which you must easily see is a Practice very prejudicial to the Publick, but their going arm'd in great Numbers, to the Terror of many of the Inhabitants of the Country.

And, Gentlemen, to put a Stop to that Practice, the Legislature thought it proper to make the Law I am now to state to you. It recites, That divers, dissolute Persons that have associated themselves, have entered into Confederacy to support one another; that they have appear'd in great Gangs in several Parts of the Kingdom, and when so assembled, have been aiding and assisting in carrying off uncustomed Goods, Goods liable to pay Duties, to the great Discouragement of the fair Trader, and the great Loss of the Revenue; their rescuing Goods after Seisure; in obstructing the Officers of the Crown; and have either wounded, maimed, and some killed in the Execution of their Offices. Gentlemen, after this recital, the Law then comes to Enact, That if any Persons to the Number of three or more, arm'd with Fire Arms, shall (after the 17th of July, 1746.) attempt the carrying away, or landing uncustomed Goods, or any Goods whatsoever, that have been exported, &c. or obstructing Officers forceably in the Execution of their Office, Persons guilty of this Offence, I am stating to you, are made guilty without Benefit of Clergy. The Case of the Prisoner stands thus, upon the 14th of September last one Thomas Mortimer , and several other Persons, who are riding Officers of the Customs, and are station'd at East-Bourne one Purpose to prevent these pernicious Practices, these Officers were at a Place called Southland, where they came to intercept a Gang of Smugglers; accordingly, about three o'Clock in the Afternoon, on the 14th of September thirty or forty of these Smugglers, several of whom were arm'd with Fire Arms, with about fifty or sixty Horses, presented themselves to the Officers of the Customs. The Officers ask'd them, what their Horses were loaded with? They told them, by virtue of their Office, they were bound to examine them. These Persons made use of a great many Oaths to terrify the Officers of the Customs; they presented their Fire-Arms, and swore, they would blow their Brains out if they attempted to seize their Goods; but notwithstanding this the Officers were not intimidated, but determined to secure the Brandy and Tea; accordingly they rode up and cut off several half Anchors of Brandy, and several Bags of Tea; upon that the Smugglers presented their Pieces, swore they would shoot them, drove away their Horses, by which the Officers were render'd incapable of seizing the whole.

Gentlemen, the Prisoner at the Bar was one of this Gang, and he had loaded upon the Horse, on which he rode, four half Anchors of Brandy, Joseph Simpson , one of the Officers of the Customs, endeavoured to seize that Brandy that was upon the Prisoner's Horse, but was prevented from doing of it by the Prisoner, who slipp'd the Bridle or Halter off the Horse's Head and drove the Horse away. When Joseph Simpson pull'd him off his Horse, he swore, if he could get one of the Company's Pieces, he would shoot him through the Head; he hollow'd after the rest of the Company to come to his Assistance; but they were too careful of their Goods to come back. One Mr Thomas Fletcher , he likewise saw the whole Transaction, and particularly what pass'd with the Prisoner at the Bar. The other Officer were likewise concerned in the same Matter, and they will give you an Account of the Transaction I have mention'd. - The Prisoner at this Time got away, but was afterwards seiz'd and carried before two of his Majesty's Justices of the Peace; and upon hearing what was alledged against him, he was committed to Prison, and now stands indicted before you. There are three Parts of the Charge, any one of them is sufficient to find him guilty if prov'd.

These are the Facts I have stated to you. Gentlemen, we shall be able to lay before you Evidence that it is impossible to doubt about; we shall bring five of the Officers of the Customs, two of whom shall be able to speak particularly to the Man himself. And, Gentlemen, supposing it is proved to you, that this Man was arm'd with two others arm'd, and carrying off Goods, is sufficient to bring it within the Intention of this Act of Parliament, which is the Third, the Fact of rescuing the Goods.

Gentlemen, under these Circumstances this Prisoner is brought before you; and it is of very great Consequence to the Publick, if he is guilty he should be found so. All the World have complain'd of the unhappy Condition of two or three Counties in England, where the Practice of Smuggling is grown to that great Heighth, that the Inhabitants know not how to lie safe in their Beds for fear of them. Gentlemen, as the Legislature thought it necessary to make this Act of Parliament, to prevent so pernicious a Practice to the common Peace of the Kingdom, if it is proved, I don't doubt but you will find him guilty of the Fact he is charg'd with.

Q. to Joseph Simpson . Do you know the Prisoner at the Bar.

Simpson. Yes, Sir, I saw him the 14th of September last with a Gang of Smugglers.

Solicitor General. How many might there be?

Simpson. Thirty and upwards.

Sol. Gen. Give an Account how they were going, and what they were carrying?

Simpson. They were carrying Brandy and Tea upon Horses Backs, slung with Cords.

Sol. Gen. How were they prepar'd for Defence?

Simpson. There were three that had Arms, and presented their Arms several times; one was a Blunderbuss, and the other two Guns, and they had Whips and Sticks.

Sol. Gen. Give an Account what they did to you; where was this?

Simpson. In South-lane we went to attack them, there were four other Officers, viz. Thomas Mortimer , Thomas Hust , Thomas Smith , and Thomas Fletcher , who are all Officers of the Customs.

Sol. Gen. Were they under any Command?

Simpson. They drew themselves up together, and their led Horses were in the middle.

Sol. Gen. So you went up and demanded the Goods of them?

Simpson. Yes, because they were running of it, and we thought it our Duty to seize it; they swore we should not have any of it.

Sol. Gen. What followed upon that?

Simpson. They threaten'd to fire, and their three Pieces were presented to us several times.

Sol. Gen. Was any discharg'd?

Simpson. No, none discharg'd.

Sol. Gen. Give an Account what concern this Man had in them?

Simpson. I pull'd this Man off his Horse.

Sol. Gen. What had he upon his Horse?

Simpson. Four half Anchors.

Sol. Gen. Did he resist you?

Simpson. He swore he would shoot me as soon as I pulled him off; he then pull'd the Bridle or Halter off the Horse's Head, and the Horse ran away.

Sol. Gen. Did you hold him?

Simpson. No, he got off.

Sol. Gen. Did you seize any of the Goods?

Simpson. Yes, thirty Half Anchors of Brandy, and half a Bag of Tea.

Sol. Gen. Can you be sure it is the same Man; did you ever see him before?

Simpson. I have seen him a great many Times.

Court. What Business did he follow?

Simpson. He used to be a Day-labouring Man till he took to the Trade of Smuggling.

Sol. Gen. Was the Prisoner one of those that were drawn up in the Manner you describ'd but just now?

Simpson. He was among them.

Q. by the Council for the Prisoner. Had the Prisoner any Arms?

Simpson. I did not see any Thing.

Council. Have you known him a good many Years. I'll venture to ask you, what has been his general Character?

Simpson. A very bad one of late; he had the Character that he use to smuggle, but I never saw him with any Goods.

The Prisoner to the Witness. Did not you declare before the Justice of Peace, that I had not any Fire-Arms, or nothing to molest them?

Simpson. He had no Fire-Arms as I know of; but he swore he would shoot me, if he could get one of the Pieces that the Company had, and he hollowed for the Company.

Sol. Gen. How came you to let him get away?

Simpson. He went away on Foot, we went after the Gang.

Sol. Gen. Did you get all, the Brandy and Tea?

Simpson. We did not get near all, they carried it off.

Sol. Gen. Did he go off with the Gang?

Simpson. I can't say that.

Q. to Thomas Fletcher . What is your Business?

Fletcher. I am a Riding Officer in East Dean.

Sol. Gen. How long have you known the Prisoner?

Fletcher. I have known him seven Years.

Court. Give an Account of what you know in relation to the Prisoner?

Fletcher. We met a Company of about 30, when they saw us come up, they drew up in a Body; we went up and ask'd them for their Goods, and said we were Custom-House Officers; they said we should have nothing; we said we would have all, and I saw Simpson pull the Prisoner off his Horse.

Sol. Gen. Did you take away any Tea and Brandy?

Fletcher. We seized 30 Half Anchors of Brandy, and one Bag of Tea; we cut them off from the Horses.

Sol. Gen. When you ask'd for these Goods what Answer did they make?

Fletcher. They swore we should not have any of them, they call'd for the Persons to come up with Fire-Arms, and they presented their Fire-Arms at us five, and we told them that they might fire if they would; with that we rode up to them directly, and cut it off their Horses, and some went one way and some another; some they carried off, and some the Country carried off.

Sol. Gen. Did you not see the Prisoner at the Bar among them? Give an Account whether you saw any Struggle between the Prisoner and Mr Simpson.

Fletcher. I saw Simpson pull the Prisoner off the Horse.

Sol. Gen. What then?

Fletcher. Then he ran away to the other Side of the Horse; and I heard him say, if he could get one of the Pieces, he would shoot him.

Sol. Gen. Did he call out to the Company?

Fletcher. Yes, at first he did.

Sol. Gen. Did you observe whether he pull'd the Bridle off the Horse?

Fletcher. I did not see him.

Sol. Gen. When this Fray was over between Simpson and him, what became of the Company?

Fletcher. We pursu'd them about half a Mile, and we then carried of what we could.

Council for the Prisoner. I am instructed to ask this Question, What is the Man's general Character?

Fletcher. I can't say a great deal of his Character, he has not the Character for stealing any Thing, but he has been of late a little troublesome.

Sol. Gen. Is it his general Character that of being a Smuggler?

Fletcher. Yes, he has the Character for it.

Q. to Thomas Mortimer . What are you

Mortimer. I am a Riding-Officer at East-Bourne. On the 14th of September last, I saw a great Company of People in the South-lane.

Sol. Gen. who was with you?

Mortimer. Mr Smith, Mr Hust , Mr Fletcher, and Mr Simpson.

Sol. Gen. What had they with them?

Mortimer. Brandy and Tea, loaded upon Horses. When we came up to them they drew up in a Body together, and we ask'd them what they had, we said we would have it all; then they presented their Fire-Arms, two or three long Pieces, one was a brass Piece; they presented these Pieces, and swore we should have none of the Goods; we cut the Goods from the Horses, we cut thirty Half Anchors, we believe there were 150 in the whole. One of them, when I came up first, struck me across the Head.

Q. Did any other strike you?

Mortimer. No, I don't know the Prisoner.

Court to the Prisoner. What have you to say in your Defence?

Prisoner. Please ye, my Lord, as I was going along the Road I met these People accidently, but what Mr Simpson says of my saying I would fire at him, is intirely false. I have a Wife and eight Children, and had it not been in the Day-time, I should have had no Business there , and I had no Arms nor nothing for defence; I had nothing in my Hand to obstruct the Officers or defend myself, and I never followed the Affair. Please ye, my Lord, I could have had thirty People to my Character, but I have not wherewith to do it, for I have nothing to support myself. Mr Simpson has known me some Years .

Council for the Prisoner, to James Ashcroft . What Relation are you to the Prisoner?

Ashcroft . He is my own Father.

Council. What Business does your Father follow?

Ashcroft . He never follows any other Business than fishing and working under my Lord Duke; he works under my Lord Duke a-fishing, under the Duke of Newcastle, he has work'd under him a great many Years. I never knew him guilty of Smuggling.

Council. Is he a Man in good Circumstances?

Ashcroft . He is in no Circumstances to bear the Expence of Witnesses coming to Town.

Court. Prisoner have you any Thing else to say?

Prisoner. I can say nothing for myself, but that I happen'd to be there accidently; and I could have had many to have appeared for me, could I have borne the Expence of it.

Guilty , Death .

When Sentence of Death was pass'd upon the Prisoner, he pleaded hard for Mercy, as he had a poor, sick Wife at home, and eight Children; but he was answer'd, that there was no Relief to be had from that Court; but that he must apply to the King, the Fountain of Mercy, the only one from whom he must expect Favour.