4th April 1779
Reference Numbert17790404-36
VerdictsNot Guilty

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230. THOMAS HILLIARD was indicted for that he on the 16th of March , about the hour of twelve in the night, willfully did set fire to a certain house of Joseph Dickinson and William Turner , of which the said Thomas was tenant .

2d Count. For setting fire to a certain other house of the said Joseph Dickenson and William Turner .

3d Count. For setting fire to another house, the property of George Ribright .

4th Count. For setting fire to another house the property of Elizabeth Swan , spinster , and Martha Swan spinster .

5th Count. For setting fire to the dwelling of him the said Thomas Hilliard .

(The witnesses were examined apart at the request of the prisoner.)


I am warehouse-man to Mr. William Dickinson , in Bucklersbery, and constable of the ward of Cheap . On the 16th of March, about half after twelve o'clock, the prisoner came to me to the watch-house, I was constable of the night; Hilliard was a brother constable, he seemed frightened and begged assistance to get the engine for he said his house was on fire, or he believed his house was on fire. Mr. Bagwell and I who were together in the watchouse, went immediately out and I went to Hilliard's lodging, and went up stairs. On the stairs there was a deal of smoke, but I saw no fire. Some watchmen followed me. I saw two women; I enquired of them where the fire was; they said they judged it to come from the chimney of the next house, where there had been men at work; I went immediately to the next house, which is Mr. Richards's, a publick house, knocked them up, and went in and examined, but there was no fire in that house. Bagwell did not go with me; he went to see for the engine. I did not see any fire in either of the houses.


I lodged in the prisoner's house, in the second floor; he occupied the rest of the house; he lay on the first floor, which is a kitchen and room adjoining to it, and a closet on the landing-place of the stairs. On the 16th of March I went to bed at past twelve o'clock. I saw Hilliard pulling off his boots that night about nine. Before I went to bed I heard the closet door on the stairs open several times. His maid lay on the same floor with us; she came up to bed; she wished me a good night as she went past; I went to bed and fell asleep; I was waked by Hilliard coming up stairs; he called Molly, Molly, the house is on fire, get up directly; it was a voice neither whispering nor very loud. This alarmed me very much; I wakened my husband, and got up and opened the door. Hilliard was just then gone down; when I opened the door the fire poured into the room. Two watchmen came up and went into my room, seeing all safe there, they went down again; I followed them; as I was going past the closet, I felt some heat come to my face; I looked up and saw a flame of fire in this closet; I called the watchmen back, and one of them struck his staff against the door. Mr. Atkins came and searched for the key, but could not find it, the maid said her master had the key; I desired him to break it open; I ran up stairs, and when I returned it was broken open. I had seen some time before a link and a piece in a place, as I came out of the cellar; they had been there I believe three weeks, I think I missed them that night.

(On her cross examination she said he was a fire-porter, had been called out to a fire; that the construction she put upon it was that the links were to light him upon those occasions.)

HENRY ATKINS , Jun. sworn.

I live next door to the prisoner. On the 16th of March, between twelve and one in the night I was alarmed by a knocking at the door and cry of fire. I got up and went into Hilliard's house; I went up stairs, and the cloud of smoke was ready to drive me backwards; the flames were coming out at the lattice over the pantry door on the stairs; I enquired for the key, but it could not be found; I set my shoulder to the door and drove in the top, so that I could put in part of my body. Within the closet there was a cupboard; the door was open I put my hand to the door and pulled it down; the flames were coming out of that cupboard; there was a fort of pitch barrel on fire in that cupboard, it was burnt quite through; I laid hold of it and it fell to pieces. I ran down stairs with the hoops and bottom all on fire; it burnt me very much; I thought there was certainly some bad intent, for it appeared by the smell to have kitchen-stuff in it; it ran over my hands; the door of the cupboard was very much burnt; there was a person there very active, so that it was soon all out.

The flames came through the lattice; I pulled a piece of the lattice down; I believe it had been in a blaze; the lattice was up at the cieling, over the door; the cupboard went up to the cieling near the lattice; the cupboard had no top. There is some timber worked into the wall an inch and an half thick, and appears to have been there ever since the house was built; there is a piece of bead runs up by the ceiling that appears to me to have been on fire; there is a piece of yellow wood nailed to the joist (I have worked in the wood manufactory, and know the nature of yellow wood) that appears to me to have been on a blaze.

What did you do with the bottom of the tub? - Put it into a tub of water; Washington has it here now; that tub was about ten or fourteen inches high.

Cross Examination.

Upon your oath did you see any fire any where but in that cupboard? - I saw the flames come through the lattice; I call the lattice on fire when I see the flames come through it. I saw the door of the cupboard on fire, and I really believe the lattice to have been on fire.

Court. Did the lattice appear black afterwards, as if it was burnt? - Yes, it appeared to be burnt.

Is the plaister about this cupboard finished? - Yes, I think it is.

Do you think the cupboard was put up since the plaister was finished? - No; I apprehend the plaister was finished after the cupboard was put up.


On the 16th of March, about half after twelve, as I was coming home, I met the prisoner coming very fast towards me; he went and opened St. Mildred's church; he seemed very much agitated; he said there was a fire in Bird-and-Hand Court; I went to the prisoner's house and went up stairs; upon the stairs I met Atkins with the bottom of the tub all on fire; I went up to the closet and saw some of the combustible stuff still burning on the shelf; I got some water and extinguished it; I turned and saw the prisoner standing by me; I desired him to assist and wet the ceiling, which was very hot; he was very diligent and did every thing in his power.


I am a carpenter. On the 23d of last month, I was at Guildhall; the prisoner was under examination for the last time; the alderman desired me to go and take a survey of the building, and give my opinion of it. Here is a plan of the place (producing it) it appeared to me that the closet where the cupboard was fixed was a part of the house, erected before the house was inhabited, as a proof of it I cut off a piece of the rail that goes over the lattice, up to the cieling. I believe that had been on fire (producing it); several persons have seen it; it has been rubbed, it was like a coal when I first had it. Here is a piece of board (producing it) that was nailed up under the joist to fix one part of the cupboard to; it appears to me to have been on fire. Here is a piece of the lattice work that was over the door, it was very black, I could not perceive that it had been burnt. In the side of the cupboard there was a cavity where the flame drew; here is a piece of the jam lining of the window, which appears to have been burnt. The cupboard appears to me plainly to be a fixture; the sides of the cupboard are the walls of the closet, and the top is the cieling. It was never meant, I am persuaded, to be pulled down.

Was the cupboard burnt at all? - Yes; here is the door (producing it); the size of it is two feet four by one foot six.

Cross Examination.

Was any part of the lattice burnt? - No; but here is, what is more material, a piece of the bead of the cieling which is burnt.

Is the cupboard an entire thing, put up at once? - I think it was put up bit by bit, first the bottom, then the door.

Does the bottom consist of two or more pieces? - I do not know, it is painted; there may be twenty pieces glued together for what I know.

Was not the bottom some of it painted and some not painted? - Not that I know of.

Do you believe the cieling to be finished before or after the cupboard and closet were put up? - I believe the cieling was finished

after the closet was put up; I cannot say as to the cupboard.

Mr. STREET sworn.

On Friday the 19th of March about twelve o'clock, Mr. Watts and Mr. Burford came to our house, and told us that Hilliard had confessed. We went to the house of one Osbourn, where the prisoner then lived, Deputy Smith went with us. We found the prisoner sitting by the fire. Deputy Smith asked him what could induce him to to be guilty of that horrid action of setting fire to his house; he did not immediately make answer; I believe the question was repeated to him two or three times, I cannot say how often; he then said that the devil had walked up and down with him for a fortnight or three weeks past; that it was to burn the lodgers out; that they should not stay any longer in the house than himself. A constable was then charged with him, and he was taken to the Compter. I went to him in the Compter and enquired what he had done with the key of the closet-door. I told him I had heard that he threw it in the cellar, but had been looking, and could not find it. He then said that he threw it the next day behind a bottle-rack in the cellar of Mr. Wenman, where he had occasionally worked as porter. Mr. Burford, I, and my porter went to Mr. Wenman's and searched and found the key, and went and tried it to the closet door, and it opened the lock.

Cross Examination.

Was there any magistrate attending, or any thing taken down in writing? - No.

Was there any threat or promise made use of to obtain this confession? - No; I was particularly careful of that.


I am surveyor to the Sun Fire-insurance-office. The prisoner was insured 70 l. on household goods, and 30 l. wearing apparel. The policy was taken out in 1769; it was in force the 16th of March.


The prisoner came to lodge with me two days after the fire; about two days before the fire he brought some good mahogany drawers and two boxes, which he said contained linen and wearing apparel. I have known him two or three years. I always thought him a very honest man.

(The lease of the house from Elizabeth and Martha Swan to Messrs. Dickenson and Turner was produced by William Tong , who was a subscribing witness.)


I have a house of Messrs. Dickenson and Turner; I had it of the ladies named Swan, before Messrs. Dickenson and Turner purchased it, and which is let to Hilliard.

P risoner. I leave my defense to my Counsel.

- CANADINE sworn.

I am a pastry-cook. I believe the pieces of wood that have been produced have not been on fire. I gave that as my opinion before the alderman. I saw all the cupboard before it was taken down; the two sides and bottom were separate pieces; it was supported by a piece of timber let into the wall; the front of the closet was wainscot; the rest was plaister.


I am a carpenter. I have seen the wall where the cupboard has been; I have never seen the cupboard; I believe the wall and the cieling were finished before the cupboard was put up; the cupboard has been put up close to the wall without interrupting the wall or making any impression in it.

To Payne. You told us the cupboard was fixed into the wall? - There is a piece of timber driven into the wall; it is there now if it has not been pulled out.

Witness. There is a shelf that was the bottom, I believe, that the cupboard stood upon; it was about five feet from the ground, there was not back to it but the wall.

The Rev. Mr. BROMLEY sworn.

I have known the prisoner very sufficiently to say that he was as faithful a man in the office in which I employed him as any man could possibly be; he was the receiver of my tythes, and the clerk of the parish; in the one he had a very considerable trust. If there was a man in his line of life that I would have trusted more than another, or suspected less than another, he was the man.

Court. In the course of your knowledge

of the prisoner, did you perceive him to be whimsical in his mind or superstitious to religious sentiments? - I looked upon him to be a very serious man.

Mr. FOOTE sworn.

I am a banker. I have known the prisoner ten years; I thought him a remarkably honest man; I have trusted him; I always heard an honest character of him.


Tried by the London Jury before Mr. JUSTICE BLACKSTONE.

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