Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 6.0, 28 July 2014), April 1771, trial of John Commings (t17710410-64).

John Commings, Deception > perjury, 10th April 1771.

315. (1st. L.) John Commings was indicted for wilful and corrupt perjury, on Dec. 1st , at the last Admiralty sessions, at the Old Bailey ; in his evidence upon the trial of captain Richard Broad , for the murder of Thomas Scott .

Joseph Gurney . I attended at the last Admiralty sessions, and took down, in short hand, the trial of captain Richard Broad . The prisoner at the bar was principal witness against the captain, who was then tried for the murder of Thomas Scott . The prisoner deposed that he was a formast-man, on board the King David, that captain Broad was then first mate, and Scott fourth mate. That he saw captain Broad knock Scott down twice with a blunderbuss, near the windlass; that then he struck the cock in his breast twice; that he then punched him three or four times with the butt end, into his belly; and then turned the mussel of the gun, and struck him in the belly; that Scott died in less than 24 or 28 hours. That he had no assistance, but lay where he fell; and that Wheeler and Osgood were there and saw him. That he really believed the blows were mortal at the time they were given; and that every one that was there thought so too. That he asked captain Broad to let the surgeon bleed him, he said d - n you, you bouger, if you be not quiet I will serve you in the same manner. Upon his cross examination, he said, it was between four and five in the afternoon; that it was broad day-light then, being in the month of July. That several blows were given him before he came. He said, that the captain knocked him down twice with the blunderbuss; that he got up and was knocked down again. He said he first struck him on the head; afterwards, he said, the first blow was in the stomach; then he said, he was knocked down both ways, both times; he could not say whether he struck him on the breast or the head with the second blow; but was certain he was knocked down with the blunderbuss in the stomach that was the first way; the punching with the cock was upon his breast, and that he punched him with the muzzle in his belly; he said, the occasion of it was, they had a shower of rain, and Scott had gone off the deck to shelter himself out of the rain; that Broad beat him upon the deck, and used him very ill, because he was off the deck. He was asked, how he could reconcile that, he said, he could not; he had said the man remained twenty-eight hours one time, and twenty-four another; being asked which he would stand to, he said to the forty-eight-hours; he was sure he did not live longer than that; that he said twenty-four in a short way for brevity sake: the truth being forty-eight hours. two whole days and nights; that all the ship's crew that were left saw him lie upon the deck in that condition, but no one could assist him; that Broad d - d him; in regard to Doughty that he never spoke to the captain about Scott, but when he said the captain d - d him he meant about Doughty; that he did not say a word to Broad about Scott, or to the surgeon's mate, or any body; that he called for no assistance, and no body offered him assistance but one Whallen and Drinkwater; what he said about the captain's denying his assistance, was in respect to Doughty; that Scott was speechless all the while; that he never heard him speak from receiving the blow; that he could not be always with him, but did apprehend he was unable to speak, and continued so during all the time; and that Osgood was upon the deck at the time the thing happened; but he did not remember any body else that was. That nobody did interpose, because they durst not speak for themselves. That the last words he ever heard from Scott, was the day before he used; he said, for God's sake, if you live to go home to Bristol, remember me to my wife and family; then he was bid to remember that two minutes before he swore that the man was speechless from the time he was knocked down till he died. His answer was, He told me that; he was then asked, if he had forgot what he said just now, that from the last time of his being struck down, he never spoke any more; his answer was, I never heard him speak after the last words; he died the day after he said this. The blows were the day before that of the conversation; he was asked if he did not say he was speechless from that time. His answer was, Not the time after he spoke to him; he never spoke in his hearing but once. Then he was asked, if he did not swear just now, that from the second time he was struck down he never heard him speak one word, and believed he was speechless. His answer was, I might say so, he was speechless; but the time he saw him and spoke to him, he said he was in a very bad condition, and died with the blows: that he looked at his breast and it was both black and blue, and he was swelled both on the right and left side of his breasts; he looked at him before he died. At the time he spoke to him. he opened his breasts; that he looked at him once in four or five hours which was as often as he could; that he did not look at his blows at any other time till he sewed him up; that he opened his cloaths at first when he spoke to him, but saw no other blow but upon his breast: that Scott told him he thought his death was owing to this blow: the words he used was, I am a dying man, and said, Captain Broad was the cause of his death: that he did not tell the Surgeon when he saw that blow upon his breast, because the prisoner would not allow the Medicines to be of any use: he said, that at the end of the forty eight hours Scott died, and he sewed him up in a bit of canvas, and threw him over board five days before they got to Jamaica: that when he came to Jamaica he told Admiral Parry of it; that he was on board the man of war four days before they failed: that he went on board the man of war on the twenty-second, and on the twenty-sixth they failed; that he told this to Admiral Parry the day he went on board; that the Admiral told him he would take care of him in London; that when he was sent for he came up here; that the Admiral had not time to do any thing at Jamaica, as he waited for the Commodore; and when he came in was obliged to fail: that the Commodore came unexpectedly, because they had expected him several days: that the admiral could not look into this matter before, because he was getting his things on board; that he had no more talk with Admiral Parry about this matter; that he went to Portsmouth, and there the ship was laid up, and he was paid off. He was then asked whether he did ever say till this hour that he ever told this story to admiral Parry. His answer was he repeated it twenty times on board the ship to admiral Parry, and his Lady and Daughter. He said he did not acquaint Captain Broad of the murder; that the admiral challenged him with the story about the murder twenty times in their passage home, and that he acquainted the admiral with it when he entered. He says, that he did not say that after he left the harbour he never said a word about it; that he was discharged at Portsmouth in September; and got to Bristol the latter end of September: and then went to his brother and sister Commings. He said he did not know Scott's brother at Jamaica; he was not acquainted with him; he was on board a man of war and could not go on shore to tell his brother what was become of him He said he did not tell the admiral that this man had a brother at Port royal; Scott, he said, told him many a time he had a brother there, but he made no enquiry about it: he said from seeing his relations at Bristol, he went the next day to Mr. Miller's, one of the owners; that Mr Miller asked him if ever Capt. Broad used him ill; he said, he never lifted up his finger against him in his life. Mr. Miller asked him whether Captain Broad had used the sellers ill; he said, he would not let Mr. Miller know any thing of it, if he had let him into the light of every thing, Captain Broad would never have been in London. The Captain Broad had been in gentleman at knew himself not guilty, he would not he come home in private. For he said he stole he river in the night; that he did not that he had to say of Captain Broad at that time to Mr. Miller; because he thought would put him out of the way; tho' he is never saw any harm of Mr. Miller He said he never mentioned any thing to Mr. Miller of Captain Broad 's using the men ill; and then afterwards said that all he had said was false. He said he was of opinion that never a one of the twenty-seven men that died on board the ship died a natural death. He was asked if the Captain sunk the ship; he said as to the Captain sinking the ship he did not know any thing about it, that was best known to himself; he did not belong to her then; for had left him before the ship was lost; that a great many slaves were lost all of them through the bad usage of Captain Broad ; for between him and his mates they lost two hundred and seventy-seven blacks; that he had seen him in the morning, before ever he got his breakfast and dinner, kill eight or nine slaves; that he beat them to death: that it was nothing for him to kill eight or nine men before breakfast. He said he killed them as fast as he could. [The Council for the crown gave up the cause and Commings was committed to Newgate by the Court for Perjury.

Richard Osgood . I was chief mate on board the King David.

Q. At the time Scott died?

Osgood. Yes; Captain Patty went out master about the 12th of February; and Broad, chief mate; I went out gunner.

Q. Do you remember Thomas Scott ?

Osgood. He was fourth mate of the vessel.

Q. What was Commings.

Osgood. He was before the mast.

Q. What did Scott die of?

Osgood. A fever, and ulcers in his legs.

Q. You was on board the ship the thirteenth of July 1769?

Osgood. Yes.

Q. And you heard Commings gave evidence here in December, he says you was by and saw it. Did you see Broad knock down Thomas Scott with a blunderbuss?

Osgood. I never saw any such thing.

Q. Did you ever hear on board the vessel that he had been knocked down with a blunderbuss?

Osgood. No.

Q. Nor never saw him knock him down with a blunderbuss?

Osgood. No.

Q. Nor never saw him strike him with a blunderbuss?

Osgood. No.

Q. Did you ever see him punch him with a blunderbuss in the belly or any other part, or strike him with the muzzle in his belly?

Osgood. No.

Q. Was you on board when Scott died?

Osgood. Yes.

Q. Did you ever hear Scott complain of Captain Broad ?

Osgood. No.

Q. Or did you ever hear it from any other of the crew?

Osgood. No.

Q. What did he die of?

Osgood With a fever, and ulcers in his legs; they were occasioned by the disorder of the country: we all had it.

Q. Had you any conversation with Scott?

Osgood. Yes, every day, he lay sick upon the deck. We had no place to put him in under deck; he lay upon the deck where we all laid.

Q. You never heard Scott complain of any ill treatment from Broad?

Osgood. No, never.

Q. Was you with him at his death?

Osgood. No.

Q. How long before Scotts death had you any conversation with him?

Osgood. It might be four or five hours.

Q. Whereabouts was it that Scott died; where was the ship at that time?

Osgood. Within forty or fifty, or sixty leagues before we made Jamaica.

Q. Do you know whether there was any application made by the defendant to Broad, to let the Surgeon bleed Scott?

Osgood. I know of none.

Q. Where did the vessel go to afterwards?

Osgood. Jamaica.

Q. When did Commings leave the ship?

Osgood. I believe about the eighteenth of July.

Q. Where was the vessel at that time.

Osgood. In Kingston Harbour.

Q. Did you see any thing of Commings after he left the ship.

Osgood. No.

Q. Do you know where he went?

Osgood. I heard on board a man of war; I was on shore at that time.

Q. This man swears he saw Captain Broad knock Scott down with a blunderbuss, punch'd him with the butt end in his breast after he was down, struck the cock in his breast, and punched the muzzle in his belly; and he died, first he said, in less than twenty-four hours; afterwards, in less than forty-eight hours; and that you was there and saw it; now the question is, is that true or false?

Osgood. False; I am certain of it.

Samuel Harris . I was on board the King David at the time Scott died.

Q. The prisoner gave an account on the last trial of Broad's knocking him down with a blunderbuss; do you know any thing of such a blow being given by Broad?

Osgood. No.

Q. Do you know what Scott died of?

Osgood. I imagine a fever; I was upon the deck generally.

Q. For the last three days before Scott died, was you upon the deck?

Osgood. Yes.

Q. Do you know of his being struck and punched with a blunderbuss by Broad?

Osgood. No, I may venture to say there was never one made use of in the whole voyage in that manner.

Q. You was second mate?

Osgood. Yes; I had a peculiar care of the arms and arm chest.

Q. Did you hold any conversation with Scott for two days before he died?

Osgood. I saw him frequently.

Q. Did he ever complain of the ill usage of Broad?

Osgood. No.

Q. Do you remember Commings's coming back to the ship at any time?

Osgood. Yes; he came back in the King's long boat.

Q. Was there any relation made then of this murder?

Osgood. I heard none.

Q. And you was on board when he came back?

Osgood. Yes; it was the King's long boat he came back in; neither he nor any other person complained of this murder.

Q. Can you say whether or not Scott died a natural death with a fever, or was killed by any blows from Broad or any other person?

Osgood. I believe he died a natural death; and as for a blunderbuss I am certain it was never made use of in such a manner in the ship.

Q. Was any violence made use of to Scott?

Osgood. I never knew or heard of any.

The Hon. Admiral Parry ;

Q. Do you remember she defendant's coming on board your ship at Jamaica?

A. I do not; because, being commanding officer, I am seldom on board.

Q. Do you remember seeing him on board?

A. I do not recollect him; from the multiplicity of seamen under my command, I cannot recollect him.

Q. Do you know of any man's telling you of the murder of Scott at Jamaica by Capt. Broad?

A. If such a complaint had been made to me I should have put him into custody there, and had him tried by a high court of Admiralty there; he never spoke a word to me.

Q. You can be very certain that this man never mentioned it to you?

A. I do not know the man; I am certain I never heard it from any man.

Q. He says he repeated it to you coming home.

A. I never heard of it.

Mr. Miller. I was a principal owner of the King David; I know the prisoner at the bar.

Q. Do you remember his coming to Bristol after having been upon the coast of Calabar?

Mr. Miller. On the latter end of September I was in my counting house; the prisoner at the bar, together with another sailor, waited upon me to demand their wages for their service on board the King David; at that time the ship was hourly expected; it turned out afterwards she waited for a freight, I asked if the ship was come in; he said, No, he came home on board the Preston man of war. I said, Have you deserted the ship? I turned to Captain Broad 's letter, and found that he was put down in that letter as entered on board a man of war. I said, You are a pretty fellow to leave the ship at such a time, after so great a mortality, and put us to straits to navigate the ship; for we buried, I think, upon the coast of Calabar and to Jamaica seven or nine and twenty white men of the crew. The original crew was about forty, and about two hundred and seventy-seven negroes. Commings said, they left the ship for bad usage; that there was no such thing as living with Capt. Broad, and also from his predecessor Capt. Patty. I said, As to Capt. Patty he might be a little severe; he was remarkably rough in his disposition, but as to Broad, I have known him many years, and looked upon him to be a different sort of a man, however when he comes home he must answer for himself: and as to your wages, it is impossible to settle with you, till I see how you stand on the ship's books. They went away; in two or three days the prisoner and the other man returned again and brought their landlord. They repeated the same demand; I gave them much the same answer, and said it was impossible for me to settle with them till I knew how they upon the ship's books, I was apprehensive they had forfeited their wages, for agreeable to that made, if a sailor does exceed forty-eight hours after a sorting from the other ships before he eaters on board a man of war, he forfeits his wages; they said, they had not forfeited it; they said I would not pay that wages they should. I would accept their power of attorney I said, I would not put them to the and expence; if they would would pay them when the ship returned which they were very thankfull. in particular, said, God bless your honour they took their leaves; I called Commings in, in order to enquire the occasion of our misfortunes by the mortality in the ship; he told me the reason of it was, they had been a long voyage about twelve months upon the coast; that they had contracted disorders, and likewise for want of the doctor, that that brought on distempers. I said, I was very sorry to hear Captain Broad behaved in that manner; I looked upon him as a different person. Sir, says the prisoner, if I may speak the truth, I never was ill used by captain Broad in my life, nor never saw any thing by him, but what was humane. I asked him, if he was not a d - d rascal, that the last time he was with me, he gave me for the reason of his quitting the ship. The ill usage of captain Broad, he said, Sir, what I said was false; we must say something to make our story good.

Prisoner's Defence.

What I swore in my first examination, I told the truth is true; and the second time of my examination some of captain Broad's friends made me drunk. Here is a gentleman here that arrested Broad for twenty pounds, and offered me and another man money not to appear against Broad; if I had taken the bribe, I should not have brought myself into this hobble. The other evidences that were with me, are at sea, both Howard and Wilson, if they had been examined, it would have proved the charge. I was wade drunk.

Guilty , I . and T .

[Fine. See summary.]