9th December 1778
Reference Numbert17781209-59
VerdictNot Guilty

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78, 79. THOMAS HUGHES and ARCHIBALD OTMAN were indicted for feloniously stealing eight pieces of silk, containing 80 yards, value 18 l. the property of the Hon. the East India Company , November 30th .


I am sixth mate on board the Duke of Portland East-Indiaman . The prisoners were lumper s on board that ship. It is the business of lumpers to break the goods out of the teer in which they are stowed, to roll them to the hatchway and sling them for the people to get them up.

Not to open the bales? - No.

What you mean by breaking is what we mean by removing? - Yes; that is the seafaring term. The prisoners were employed in the hold. I stood on the gun-deck and saw the lower hatch was taken up; I asked the men at work in the hatchway, where the prisoners were, they said they thought they were gone to sleep somewhere; I went aft and saw Otman lying down on the larboard side in the hold. This was as I think about seven. Hughes was standing by the side of a case that was broke open. I asked Otman what he was doing there; he said he was going to sleep. I came forward to the second hatchway; I then saw Hughes take two pieces of silk out of this case and chuck them to Otman. I went immediately on deck to the commanding officer, the chief mate, the company's surveyor, and the king's superintendant, and told them of it. I got a light and went down and found eight pieces of striped silk, three pieces were lying by Otman, by the corner of the pump, one by the corner of the case that was broke open, and four on the opposite side of the ship.

Could they have got out of the case by accident or fell out? - They could not.

Were they part of that bale of goods? - Yes; I verily believe they were.

Cross Examination.

Whether upon your oath you understand silks? - I know silk when I see it; I do not understand the quality.

Were there any more lumpers working in the hold that day? - Yes; two more, but they were never out of the hatchway, to my knowledge.

Counsel for the prosecution. Were they near the case? - No.


I am a custom-house officer. I was on board this ship on the 30th of November.

Arthur came and informed us of this affair. I got three candles, and we went down into the hold. I saw the case broke open at the corner, so that you might just put one hand in and lift the silk up, and with the other hand draw it out. There is a coarse wrapper over the case that was cut. There was a piece of silk lying under the corner of the case. We found the pieces in the several places Arthur mentioned.

This is one of the eight pieces; I sealed it myself (producing it) the other pieces are here.

- DAWES sworn.

I am gunner on board the Duke of Portland. I was on board on Saturday night.

Were there any silks or any bales lying about this place on Saturday night? - On Saturday night, at near five o'clock, the Captain gave me orders to go and look for a particular bag of rice, with a W L upon it. These two cases were in the larboard side of the ship. The two prisoners were with me to seek for this bag. To the best of my knowledge there was no broken package nor loose silks.

What day were the bales broke open? - On Monday morning. This was the 28th of November.

Jury. Did you do any business on Sunday on board the ship? - No.

To Arthur. How was your situation that you could see Hughes take out two pieces? - By the light of the hatchway. I was in the aft part of the hatchway, in the hold. I do not know who broke the package.

How came you not to go immediately to stop him? - I did not know that there was any such things carrying on in the ship. The lumpers have no right to break any package on board the ship.

When you saw a Jumper departing from his duty and breaking open a package, why did not you take him? - I did not see him break the package, I only saw him take two pieces out.

Jury. Is it within a case? - Yes; a new case, nailed up with a bag over it, and cordage over that.

How soon after this was the examination made by Surry? - I imagine it might be about ten minutes after I saw him take the two pieces out before I get up upon the deck. I gave the custom-house officer charge of the hatch-way.

Are these packages ever broke by order of the captain or any body else? - Never.

How do you suppose they became broken? - The gunny bag sewed over the bale could not be broke open by any force without the help of a knife or some such thing.

Do these goods pay custom-house duty? - Certainly. They are for exportation; most of the duty I apprehend is redeemed again when they are exported.

Is it not a usual thing to break these packages to run them on shore without paying the duty? - I do not suppose the Honourable Company ever ran a pound's worth of goods.

But are not these packages frequently broke in order to run them on shore without paying the duty? - This was the company's mark and number.

But are not these packages frequently broke in order to run them; could not the captain put the company's numbers upon them? - No. The captain nor no one ever dare put the company's number upon them.

Did you see the particular mark of the company upon these bales? - I saw the company's mark on these bales, to the best of my knowledge, on Sunday night.

Jury. Where was the mark put? - On the outside of the gunny bag.

Was you near enough to see positively that the bale out of which the goods were taken had the company's mark? - I was. I am very positive I did see it.

You know very well these lumpers and all of you break goods in order to run them on shore? - There is no such thing as trusting to a lumper to run goods on shore.

Counsel for the crown. Though officers may happen to run goods on shore, does any body ever run the company's goods on shore? - Never.

Court. Do not the officers put the company's mark on some sometimes to run them on shore? - I imagine it is death to do so.

Court. Where is the bale now? - At the company's warehouse, to the best of my knowledge.

- DARBY sworn.

I am surveyor to the East India Company. I fastened down the hatches at near five

o'clock, for they are never open after dark; the key was never out of my possession till Monday morning, when they were opened again at seven o'clock. And they were on Monday morning in the same situation as I left them in on Saturday night.

Then it was impossible to do any business till Monday morning? - No; it is impossible. I am intrusted with the keys till the ship is cleared. The case which was broken open was No. 4.


I am a locker belonging to the custom-house. No. 4. ought to have contained 200 pieces, but I found only 176.

Who did the chest belong to? - It belonged to the company; it had the company's mark and number and character in every respect.

And is lodged now in the company's warehouse? - Yes.

Do not the company pay duty? - Yes.

Court. Do the packages always come entire or are they not often less than they purport to be? - We have always the quantity of pieces put upon the invoice, but we often find them plundered, as this has been, particularly the silks.

Every piece that comes on shore pays a duty? - I cannot positively answer what duty it pays.

Counsel for the Crown. Did you ever know any of the officers of the ship to smuggle the company's goods on shore? - Private trade they do, but never the company's goods. What is the company's property must be stolen out before it can be got on shore.

Court. But cannot the captain put on board his own private adventure under the seal of the East-India Company? - It must be a fraud if he did.

Cross Examination.

Do not you know that the captains often give a guinea or two to the surveyor of the company in order to pass what they have on shore? - I never was a surveyor, and therefore I cannot account for other people.


I am Bengal warehouse-keeper to the East-India Company. I have in my hand the invoice of the Duke of Portland; this was delivered to me from the company when the ship arrived, and it is my duty to see that every thing comes out clear from these packages into the warehouse agreeable to the invoice sent from the company's servants at Bengal . In the second page, here is a No. 4. S. Taffety, which means striped taffety. Upon the opening of this chest, the servants under me gave me what we call a piling bill; they found only 176 pieces and a small bale containing ten, and this piece, which was kept for evidence. These goods were in a strong chest, nailed down, and there was a strong gunny or hopsack sewed upon it.

What is the value of the pieces? - They sold at the sale for 47 or 49 s. a piece.


I examined this chest when it came to the warehouse of the East-India Company; I found the gunny cloth cut, and it had been broke open; it contained only 176 pieces; there was a small bale brought along with it, containing ten pieces; and I was told there was one piece kept as an evidence.


We were searched by the officer, and nothing found upon us. We have two witnesses here who were in the hold at the same time.


My Lord, we will call these two men.

For the Prisoner.


I was one of the lumpers. I was in the hold. I saw John Davis in the middle of the ship; I think a man could not stand at the hatchway and see a person take goods out of the place where the bales were in, because it is so dark a man would be a great while before he came to his sight, and it was three or four or five yards distance.

How many people were in the hold besides you? - One besides the two prisoners.

How far was you from Hughes? - I believe I was within three or four yards of him, but it was so dark that I cannot tell whether he lay down or was standing up.

Do you think the chest could have been broke open without making such a noise that you must have heard it? - I think if any board had started, I must have heard it.

Cross Examination.

You saw that the case was broke open? -

I did not see that any case was broke; the canvass or the wrapping was broke, but who did it I do not know.


I was on board this ship.

Do you think it possible for any person to stand upon this hatchway and to see any thing taken out of this package? - I think not; I do not think it possible that a theft could be broke open without my hearing it.

(The prisoners called two other witnesses, who gave them a good character.)


Tried by the Second Middlesex Jury before Mr. Justice WILLES.

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