4th April 1779
Reference Numbert17790404-21
VerdictsNot Guilty

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210. JOSEPH BROWNE was indicted, for that he, on the 15th of March , about the hour of two in the night, a certain house of Edward Fleet , Clerk , of which said house the said Joseph was tenant, unlawfully, maliciously, wilfully, and feloniously, did set fire to the same house, and by such firing, the same house did burn and consume against the statute , &c.

2d Count. For setting fire to a certain other house of the said Edward Fleet , and by such firing the same house did burn and consume, against the statute , &c.

3d Count. For setting fire to the dwelling-house of him, the said Joseph Browne , and by such firing did burn and consume the said dwelling-house, against the statute, &c.

4th Count. For setting fire to a certain house of the said Edward Fleet , of which said house the said Joseph Browne was tenant, against the statute, &c.

5th Count. For setting fire to a certain other house, of the said Edward Fleet , against the statute, &c.

6th Count. For setting fire to the dwelling-house of him, the said Joseph Browne , against the statute, &c.


Are you a watchman of the parish of Wapping? - Yes.

Do you remember the 15th of March last, when the fire broke out in Wapping? - Yes.

What time of the night was it when you was near the house kept by Mr. Browne? - I was coming by, I believe, about twenty minutes after twelve, and found the door open.

Where is Browne's house? - Between the cheese-warehouse and the grocer's.

In what street? - In Wapping street .

At this time was there any appearance of fire? - There was no appearance at all of fire. I found his door open, and the key on the outside.

Was the house open, or only the key on the outside. - The door stood a-jar, and the key was on the outside. I saw dirt in the entry.

Did the door stand so much a-jar that you could look into the entry? - Not a great way; only about the space of a foot. I demanded

to know who was there; a man answered Browne.

Did you see any body there before you asked who was there? - No; I did not see any body there. I called out before I saw anybody. The door was a-jar. A man answered me his name was Browne. Seeing the house dirty, as if the goods were removing, I said that would not do for me; I must see the master or mistress of the house. With that the man came to the door to me; he told me that he was the master of the house, and his name was Browne. I said, Sir, you will excuse my making myself so busy; but, finding the key on the outside, made me so particular to see the master of the house. He made answer again his name was Browne, and he was master of the house. I said the key was on the outside of the door. He said, is it? and seemed not to know it.

Did you take any notice of the man? - Coming to the door, I observed he was a lusty man; he had a brown coat on loose. I did not take notice of the rest of his clothes, nor his face. I went to my brother watchman, and told him. He said, all as is you must mind there are no goods brought out of the house. I returned to my box again.

How near was your box to his house? - Fifty or sixty yards from his house. - Going past the door, I struck my staff against the door, and it was fast. I looked up at the windows, and saw no light. I returned again in about twenty minutes, and the door was fast then, and I saw no light.

Did you see anybody come out of that house? - Only Mr. Browne; he came out and locked the door, and bid me mind my own business.

When was that? - The first time.

Tell us how that was? when you told him the key was on the outside what did he do? - He came out, locked the door on the outside, and bid me mind my own business.

Did you observe which way he went? - No; seeing he was a gentleman, I took no more notice.

Did you observe his voice? - Yes; he had a course voice, spoke short, and seemed angry with me for making myself so busy.

How soon after this was the alarm of fire? - It was mean half after two o'clock when I first heard the alarm of fire. The alarm was given when I was in my box. I came out and saw the flames above the houses.

Which house did you see first on fire? - I cannot say; it was one of the houses near on the spot where I first spoke to Mr. Browne.

When you first saw the house on fire was there any more than one house on fire? - I cannot say; I believe there was only one house on fire.

How far was the front of this house from the back? - I cannot say; I never was in the house.

How far is the back from the river? - I cannot say.

Was you before the justice when this matter was enquired into? - Yes.

Did you see anybody there charged with this offence? - I saw the man I spoke to, Browne.

Is the prisoner the man? - Yes.

Did you take any notice of his voice? - I took him to be the same man by his size and his voice.

Did you take any other observation of his person to make you think he is the man? - I took no observation of his features.

Cross Examination.

Did you take any notice of his person that night? - No.

Did not you take notice of his features? - No.

Then if two hundred men had assembled you could not have picked this man out? - No further than I thought he was the man by his size and voice.


I am a waterman.

Where was you the night of the fire? - On board a vessel called the Falcon. It lay on Mr. Smith's Quay, close to Mr. Browne's back door.

Do you know Mr. Browne's house? - Yes; vastly well.

What did you observe first of that house? - A fire came out of the back side about ten minutes after two o'clock.

Was you awake? - Yes; I was obliged to be awake to haul the ship too for the

caulkers to work her next day. I was obliged to be up on account of the tide. About ten minutes after two o'clock the fire came out of the back premises of Mr. Browne's house.

What do you mean by back premises? - The back warehouses.

It runs a great depth from the street to the river? - Yes; I suppose near fifty feet.

Are the warehouses timber buildings? - Yes.

The fire came out of those warehouses? - Yes; the lower part of the warehouses.

Did you observe any fire any where else? - No; the fire was very small then; I suppose it was a tar-barrel on fire by the blackness of the smoke; there was a cloud of smoke as if it came from a tar-barrel.

Cross Examination.

How many warehouses were there at the river-side, on this spot where the fire happened? - Every premise had warehouses.

Did the warehouses and fronts join together? - Yes.

Were there landing-places at the back of these warehouses? - Some warehouses have; but there is a wharf to the next house but one to this which was on fire.

Who did the wharf belong to at the back of Browne's house? - There was no wharf there.

Was there a communication from Browne's house to the river? - Yes; the back door, where he ships his goods. The water flows up quite to the house.

You think the alarm was about ten minutes after two o'clock, what kind of a morning was it? - A very fine morning.

Was it moonlight? - Yes.

You was in a situation that you could see the progress of the fire? - I was so nigh that it burnt the hat on my head, and the handkerchief on my neck.

Did you stay on board the ship? - Yes, to endeavour to save it.

Which way did it spread? - Next the grocer's took fire, then Smith's wharf, it is a sand wharf, and then the wind turned easterly. There was a squall of wind. It took upwards, towards the Hermitage, and burned both ways at once.

Had you such an opportunity as to mark the course and progress of the fire, that you can speak with certainty to the place where it broke out. - Yes; I was obliged to clear the fire from the ship; it was on fire three times; my hat was burnt on my head, and my handkerchief on my neck.


I am clerk to Mr. Hadden, cheesemonger. I was alarmed about twenty-five minutes after two, on the 16th of March. I was up when the alarm was given.

Do you live at the next door to Browne's? - No; at the distance of eighteen or twenty houses. Not being in bed, I went down the street immediately with Mr. Mitchell, and some other gentlemen. I thought the fire was at Mr. Keating's, or Mr. Browne's premises. When I came there I was confirmed in it, for Mr. Keating was running out of his house in his shirt, (he is a grocer next door to Browne's) and there was a person throwing some bedding, or something out of a one-pair-of-stairs window. I observed the fire burning very rapidly backwards. I thought Mr. Hadden's house in danger.

We do not want a history of the fire. Did you make any observation of Browne's House? - I could not tell where the fire began; it was at the back of the houses. I was alarmed for Mr. Browne's family. I recommended the door to be broke open; it was broke open, and I immediately went in, and endeavoured to alarm the family by calling Mr. Brown by name. A person told me I need not trouble myself, for Mr. Brown was removed to Bethnal-Green. Browne's house was very much on fire backwards.

Was his house at last burnt down? - Yes; it was.

Did you observe how it was furnished? - No; I did not.

The fire had not caught the dwelling-house at that time? - No; I think not.


I was out in the street at the time the fire broke out. I went down to Mr. Browne's house, and saw the fire at the back part of it. I could not be certain whose house it was that was on fire then. When I had been there a little time, I saw

the next door neighbour throw some things out of the house, sheets, and some other things. Thinking Mr. Browne was in danger and asleep. I broke the door open, and found the fire had made a great progress in the house; I suppose halfway into the house from the back part.

Was there any other house on fire at that time? - Not that I could see.

When you broke the door open could you see that the fire was confined to Mr. Browne's house? - I thought the fire began at his house, because it was burning in his house.

You cannot say that it had reached other houses? - I cannot tell that.

Did you see any furniture in the house? - There was none that I saw; I cannot pretend to say whether there was or not; I did not take notice of that. When you first go in, there is a passage, and then a room. I did not go in; the fire had burned I dare say half way into the house.


I live next door to Mr. Browne. I was alarmed about half after two o'clock, as near as I can recollect, and got up in my shirt and looked out at the back window, and saw a reflection of fire on the opposite ships. My warehouse was lower than Mr. Browne's, I could see over it. I ran forward; I saw no fire in the street; I went into the street and took an observation of the fire over Mr. Brown's house. I went back to my warehouse, which was not then on fire, but in three or four minutes after the fire burst through the side of it, next to Mr. Browne's; the blaze rose from Mr. Brown's warehouse, and over-topped mine; I saw there was danger. In about three minutes it struck into mine.

Did the fire communicate to your warehouse from Mr. Brown's? - It did.

How far is Mr. Browne's warehouse from his dwelling-house? - There is a communication between the dwelling-house and warehouse; the dwelling-house is brick, and the warehouse wood. I saw then I had no remedy left, not being insured. I stood some time amazed; I ran up stairs and called for assistance, and threw what I could out of the window.

You cannot tell that the fire had not began beyond Mr. Browne's? - From the observation I made, I could not see that there was any fire beyond Mr. Browne's warehouse.


I am a porter.

Do you know Mr. Browne? - Yes.

Where does he live? - At Wapping.

Has he any other house? - Yes; at Bethnal-green.

Did you remove any goods from Wapping to Bethnal-green? - Yes; I carried the last about a fortnight before the fire.

Did you carry most of the goods? - Yes.

Do you remember what you left in the house? - A bed and bedstead, a chest with some clothes in it, about two or three tons of potatoes, two puncheons of four-crout, about four or five empty puncheons, and a parcel of old lumber; there was part of a barrel of pitch and tar, of about half a hundred weight, tub and all together; there were likewise some old mats.

Where was the piece of the barrel of tar left? - In the shop next the street.

Were these all the things that were left? - All that I know of.

You went over the house? - Yes, from the top to the bottom.

What did you carry to Bethnal-green? - All the household goods.

What else? - Some coals in the cart.

Did you carry any clothes? - No.

Did you see any clothes at Bethnal-green? - No.

Cross Examination.

Are you a porter employed? - Yes.

These goods were removed publickly and openly? - Yes.

Prisoner. Whether you was in the two-pair-of-stairs forward? did you observe the bed and bedstead there? - The bed was left in the back room two-pair-of-stairs; I saw none in the two-pair-of-stairs forwards.

Did you go into the two-pair-of-stairs forwards? - Yes.

Did you remove any thing out of that room? - I only saw the bed and bedstead in the back room.

Were there any curtains? - Yes, linen.


I am a merchant.

Are you acquainted with the prisoner? - I have known him several years.

Did you see him at any time in the night the fire happened, or the morning after the fire? - About half-past seven in the morning, as near as I can recollect, I met Mr. Browne in Globe-yard, just by the fire; he said Mr. Beswick, I first lost my ship last year, and now I have lost my all; that is all that passed, as near as I can recollect.

Mrs. BARBARA BELL sworn.

Do you know the prisoner? - Yes.

Did you see him the morning of the fire? - Yes.

What o'clock? - I cannot be certain to the hour; he came in after I had breakfasted; the boys were at breakfast.

Was it ten or eight o'clock? - It must be after eight. He said he had lost his all, he had nothing more than what he stood in, and his wife had only the gown on her back.

Cross Examination.

Did you know he had been removing some time before? - I did see the porter remove some things.


I am engineer to the Sun Fire-office.

When did you see this Browne? - I saw Browne at the Globe in Globe-yard, about nine o'clock in the morning. As I was heaving my barge ashore, Mr. Bowing said Browne wanted to see the fireman of the Sun Fire-office; I asked where he was to be seen; he said at the Globe in Globe-yard; I went to Mr. Browne; he said he wanted the fireman of the Sun Fire-office, he had insured 400 l. and had lost his all, that he had saved no more than he stood in.

Was he insured? - Yes; on household goods, furniture and stock. We have got the books here. I told him he must apply to the surveyor of the Sun Fire-office.

What is the amount of his insurance? - The surveyor has the book.


I am surveyor of the insurance-office. (The book produced). He was insured 60 l. on household goods; 40 l. on wearing apparel; and 300 l. on utensils and stock in trade.

What was his trade? - He is described here a shopkeeper.

Cross Examination.

Are you an officer in the Sun Fire-office? - A surveyor.

Inform the court what demand he made on the office. - He made no demand that I know of.

Court. Was it long after the fire before this suspicion fell upon him? - Ten days after.

Counsel for the Prisoner.


I am a ship-wright.

Are you acquainted with the prisoner? - I have known him personally ever since he came into Wapping.

Was you in his company any part of the evening preceeding the fire? - Yes; I saw him at the King Harry's Head, Red-Lion-street, Whitechapel, about seven o'clock; Browne was sitting in a chair before the fire. He continued at that house till about nine o'clock, or after.

Was he there all the time? - I saw him about seven o'clock.

Did you leave him there? - I believe I did at nine o'clock.


I keep a publick-house, the sign of the Globe.

Do you know Mr. Browne? - Yes.

Whose house does he live in? - The house of the Reverend Mr. Fleet: I collect rents for Mr. Fleet.


I never was from the Friday before till the morning that gentleman saw me near the house, that was after the fire was over, to see it. I hope I have people to prove where I was, I would not tell a lye for my heart, my life, nor my soul neither. That gentleman knows I always paid my rent.

For the Prisoner.


I live at No. 20, High-street, Wapping, the third house on the opposite side from Mr. Browne's.

What time in the morning did you first see any thing of the fire? - When I was first alarmed, it was about two o'clock.

Can you say whether the clock struck two or not? - No.

What observation did you make? - I looked out of my two-pair-of-stairs window, and saw it at the back of Mr. Keating's house.

Did you observe whether there was any fire in Mr. Brown's house? - No; I saw none at that time any where else, but at the back of Mr. Keating's house.

Court. Are you three houses higher up or lower down? - Higher up.

Then you are four houses higher than Keating's? - Yes.


On the 15th of March I lived in the opposite house to the fire; I was not gone to bed when the alarm was given.

Where did it make its first appearance? - At Mr. Keating's house. I was in the back parlour. As soon as the alarm was given I went up stairs and looked out of the two-pair-of-stairs window; I saw a reflection and sparks from the back of Mr. Keating's house.

Was Browne's house at this time, in your judgement, on fire? - There was not the least appearance of it.

ANNE AKIN sworn.

I live in Orange-court, opposite Mr. Browne's house.

What time in the morning was it that you first observed the fire? - I believe about two o'clock; I was in the street; the fire appeared to me to break out next door to Mr. Browne's.

The next door above it or below it? - Below it.

Was there any appearance of fire in Browne's house at that time? - Not that I saw.


I lived at the time of the fire at the Ship and Pilot, about three doors below the fire, on the other side of the way.

Nearer to Browne's or Keating's? - Nearer to Keating's. I had just been giving some clothes to the washerwoman to wash. Keating cried out three times, fire, fire, fire! I got up and ran to the window and asked where it was; Mr. Keating said it was at his house; his house was all on fire.


I live at the Camden's-Head, Bethnal-green.

How far is that from Wapping? - About a mile and a half or two miles. Mr. Brown has a house in the gardens, where I live. On the night of the fire he was in my house between eight and nine o'clock; he ordered a pot of beer home for him and his old woman to drink before they went to bed, he said.

Did you see him any more that night? - No.

How long might he be in your house? - About half an hour; I believe he went away between eight and nine; the beer was sent.


I know Mr. Brown; I saw him on the evening the fire happened, at his own house, in Camden's Gardens, a little after nine o'clock; he said he had been at Bullen's and ordered a tankard of beer; I told him I intended to call him up early in the morning to do his garden. I locked the garden-gates. and went to bed. I waked him the next morning early; he looked out of the window in his shirt and night-cap, that was about six in the morning; there is a strong fence with spikes upon it.

Cross Examination.

Is there no gap in the fence? - There was a gap but not big enough for a man to get through; a child might. Since he has been in custody the gap has been made bigger.

How high are the pails? - About seven feet, with iron spikes on the top.

How had the gap been made bigger? - By shoving some of the pales down.


I believe you may know what inventory was delivered in by Mr. Brown of his

by this fire to charge the Sun Fire-office? - About four or five days after the fire Mr. Brown talked with me about his loss; he said the demand he had on the insurance-office was very trivial; that he had ware-houses that were not insured; he said he should be a greater loser than the insurance; his servant should draw up an inventory of his loss and deliver it in, accordingly it was drawn out and delivered to me by his servant Sarah Stonehouse . This was before he was taken up. He had called and told Mr. Gray, before that, he had very little demand upon them.

(The inventory was produced in court.)


(The inventory shown) Is that your hand writing? - Yes, it is.

You lived with Mr. Brown at Wapping? - Yes.

You left him some time before the fire? - Yes; two months.

Was he possessed of the things mentioned in the inventory when you lived with him? Yes, and many more.

Have you been at his house in Camden's-gardens? - Yes, I live there now.

Are any of those things in the house at Camden's-gardens, or are they missing? - They are missing; my master and mistress sat down to recollect what they had lost; and I put them down.

Counsel. They are appraised at 65 l. the man is not here that appraised them.

Do you remember how many days after the fire it was before your master was taken up? - I came on the Saturday, the inventory was taken on the Tuesday, and carried to Mr. Bradley on the Wednesday morning, he was taken into custody after four o'clock.

Court to Keating. The women has said that you cried out fire three times; that she put her head out at window, and asked where. You said at Keating's, my house is all on fire? - It was begun to break into my premises; it broke into the warehouse, and communicated to the dwelling-house in less than five or six minutes.

To Turner. When did you mention to any of the gentlemen of the parish that you had seen this door open? - As soon as I returned from fetching the engines from the workhouse.

Brown called seven other witnesses, who gave him a very good character.


Tried by the Third Middlesex Jury before Mr. Baron EYRE.

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