THOMAS DAVIS.
12th July 1797
Reference Numbert17970712-55
VerdictGuilty
SentenceDeath

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464. THOMAS DAVIS was indicted for that he, on the 19th of June , in a certain open place, near the King's highway, in and upon Sir John Buchannan Riddle , Bart. did make an assault, putting him in fear, and taking from his person, a French half-crown, value 2s. 3d. and 4s. in money , the property of the said Sir John.

Mr. Garrow. Gentlemen of the Jury. I have the honour of attending you upon the present occasion, as Counsel for a very respectable and honest Baronet, who has felt it his duty to institute this prosecution against the prisoner:

You have collected from the statement of the indictment that has been read to you by the Clerk of the Arraigns, that it imputes to the prisoner the offence of highway-robbery. Gentlemen, ordinarily speaking, I might content myself with staring, that that was the nature of the offence, and proceed to call the witnesses who are to substantiate the guilt of the descendant; but if nothing else had suggested to me the necessity of taking another course, the manner in which this prosecution is ushered in to your notice, upon the part of the prisoner, has rendered it indispensibly necessary, that I should state to you the circumstances rather more in detail. Gentleman, you have observed, that those of the other sex, who, from business, or curiosity, have been brought into this place, have, by the decorum of the learned Gentlemen, who is intrusted with the defence of the prisoner, been recommended to withdraw, and I understand, that before I came into the Court, an application had been made, that certain persons in the custody of the Sheriffs of the County, should be forth coming as witnesses on the part of the defendant; it therefore becomes my duty, a painful, but a necessary one, to state this case more at large than I should have been disposed to do, and I do it principally in mercy to the descendant, who now stands at the bar, that he may be apprized of the perils into which, by possibility, he may be about to place himself in, and that I may not be, at least a means of aggravation to his defence. Gentlemen, I shall present to you, in the character of the prosecutor, on this occasion, as honourable, as respectable, in one word, upon the subject of this prosecution, a man of as manly virtue as any in any part of the united kingdoms; I invite the most ample and scruinous inquiry into his character and conduct; I solicit, I intreat, I implore an opportunity of calling those, who unsolicited by him, persons of the highest rank in society have come to speak to his virtues and his character; I implore an opportunity which this prosecution, conducted in one way may furnish, of examining those persons, with respect to the character of the prosecutor. Gentlemen, unexplained, this may seem odd in a case of highway robbery, but I shall explain it satisfactorily. The prosecutor is a young Baronet of a family, of the highest distinction, as I have already told you: He, on the 19th of June, was going to see the state of the illuminations, as they were expected at Lord Malden's house, and it grieves me to have to address you, who had in the last discharge of your duty to witness an example of the loyalty, decorum, and the manly and soldier-like spirit of the Guards; it grieves me to be obliged so immediately to furnish you with a contrast of the depravity of a certain portion of that class; I hope to God, and I believe, that though the majority of them are of the description you have to day seen, and if they are of that character, we who value the constitution, have nothing to apprehend; I have to present you with the melancholy contrast; I am not instructed to conceal any thing that is indiscreet on the part of the prosecutor, the most honourable, the most sensible man may do a simple thing, and Sir John Riddell must excuse me, if I say in the introduction to this business, that he has done a silly thing, beyond that, I defy the tongue of stander itself. Gentlemen, when he had got rear a place, called the Laundry, Sir John Riddell saw some women at a window, he, as a young man, and though he is a man of rank and fashion, he condescended certainly to joke and say some silly things to these women; the prisoner was a sentinel near the spes, it was his duty to protect the King's sabjects, whether in the course of this investigation you shall be obliged to arrive at the conclusion irresistible, that some of those upon whom that duty is cast are employed in those situations, only for the purpose of pillaging such of the King's subjects as may fall into their hands, to attack that, which, to a man of feeling, is of more importance than any property that he carries about him, his feelings and his character, it must remain for the final result of this enquiry for you to determine.

Gentlemen, having overheard this silly conversation with these girls, the prisoner at the bar put himself in the way of Sir John, who, in passing the sentinel, said,"soldier, I suppose you would have no objection to do something to these girls;" there was some silly conversation of that sort; upon which the prisoner at the bar instantly, and you will judge whether it was by preconcert from the facts that immediately followed, he immediately asked how he dared to propose such a thing to him; I should not quarrel with it if it ended there; he immediately stated, that he would not suffer the prosecutor to depart, unless he gave him a present, presenting, at the same time, his musket and his bayonet; Providence enabled him to do that which does not happen to us all to do; Providence writes a legible character now and then, you will see the prosecutor, and seeing him you will judge for yourselves, whether the most scandalous, indecent, and infamous imputation cast upon him by this man, falls in with your notions of such a legible character; I think, what happened upon the occation, is a pretty strong mark of it; he knocked down this armed soldier who had presented his musket, upon which some persons, who are proposed to be called to you, came up, I hope, in mercy to the prisoner, they will not be subjected to my cross-examination. Gentlemen, upon his presenting his bayonet, he took out two or three shillings, and gave to him, saying, he did not chuse to be detained; he then charged him with having put his hand into his breeches, and felt his p-e p-s; Sir John then insisted upon his being taken with him to the guard-house, a guard came up, and he was conducted to the guard-house, where a very satisfactory investigation took place.

Gentlemen, in this case, I am not called upon to enter into any nice disquisitions on the subject of highway robbery, the law upon that subject is clear and wise, whatever doubts may have been suggested they are all now done away; but I am not put to any nice disquisitions upon constructive highway robbery, the true construction of highway robbery is obtaining goods, or money, by any the smallest degree of terror calculated to export it from a person without his consent; need I then before discreet sensible men, argue upon the propriety of presenting a musket, and telling him he should be detained there till he made him a present; need I ask you, if such conduct was not sufficient to make a man of ordinary firmness feel some degree of terror? Under such terror Sir John parted with his property. But now we come to that which I consider, viewing it

not as the question of the prosecutor, this honourable Baronet, but as that which I tender, much more the question of the public security.

Gentlemen, speaking always subject to the correction of his Lordship, I take it, that even if the facts were true, that the prosecutor had unfortunately, in a wretched moment of his existence, so lost fight of the character of his ancestry, so totally forgotten all that is due to himself, and to his own honour, had been so totally berest of all that belongs to man in society, as to commit the indecencies that this apparatus leads me to suppose may this day be imputed to him, it is no answer to this prosecution in point of law; but I have no difficulty in saying, if you believe that he conducted himself in the manner in which I am obliged to offend the chaste car of a Court of Justice, by, stating what the prisoner imputed to him, though, in point of law, it is no justification of that which was done, by opposing force to him, and taking his goods from him; if you believe the prosecutor to have been capable of the guilty act imputed to him, I take him to he a man not to be believed, and I do not ask you to believe him, upon his credit, or upon his character; upon his conduct stands the life of the prisoner; try him by the rules by which you yourselves would wish to be tried, or to try others, and there seems to me to be no difficulty in the case.

Gentlemen, there were other persons committed for the share they had in this transaction; and I am not sure that I have not some blame imputable to me, and to my learned Friend, that they are not now at the bar; because, I think, in the course of this inquiry, it is not quite impossible that the learned Judges may think they ought to have been submitted to the consideration of a Grand Jury of the country; I confess, judging as I do upon this subject, with the able assistance that I have, I thought, perhaps, it was difficult, upon this particular species of prosecution, to convict them; and I thought, perhaps mistakenly, that it would be more decorus, and might lead to a more satisfactory investigation of truth, not to prosecute those persons with the present prisoner for a capital offence, but to leave him with an opportunity, if it should be thought discreet and proper to avail himself of it, of resorting to that charge against the prosecutor, of which it might have been said we had deprived him of his proof, by indicting the witnesses to the fact; but I think, Gentlemen, that standing here, charged with a very solemn and important duty as I am, I should ill discharge that duty if I sat down without stating, and God Almighty forbid I should state it from menace, but I do it from the true spirit, I hope, of gentlemanly candour; God forbid it should be supposed to be a menace, that if it should be thought good to revive this charge, it will be my duty to lay before you, a Jury of the country, such evidence as must make it impossible, for a single moment, to doubt, that the charge made, or insinuated against the prosecutor, is unfounded, and infamous in the last degree.

Gentlemen, I shall call the prosecutor to prove the circumstances of this case; I will not insult him, or offend this chaste Court, by asking him, as a question from me, put by my able and learned friend to him, whether that charge is true or not; I shall wait till the season arrives, in which, if indiscretion should accumulate upon the aggravated case of this defendant, the question shall be asked on his part.

Gentlemen, I hope the prisoner will well weigh, before he embarks in a mode of defence, that may be, by possibility, extremely dangerous; the prosecutor comes here, because he believes it to be his duty; and I am perfectly satisfied, under the advice you will receive from the Court, that you will weigh this case in the scale of mercy, and having done so, if you feel the necessity of this prosecution, you will meet your situation with the fortitude of men, and will pronounce him guilty, because your duty to yourselves, to the prisoner, to the prosecutor, and to the public, all concur in requiring it.

SIR JOHN BUCHANNAN RIDDELL sworn. - Examined by Mr. Fielding. On the 19th of June, I went to Astley's, over Westminster-bridge, in order to meet two ladies, whom I expected to see there, I did not find them there, and therefore left Astley's soon after ten o'clock; I relide in Bruton-street: I was going to an assembly at Lord Malden's, and when I got to the end of the street, I recolected that my coachman and footman were both at Astley's, I thought it would be of no use to go home, knowing I should not have the assistance of any of my people; I had been told in the morning, that Lord Malden's assembly was to begin very early, that it was to be held in the garden, and my Lord's house was to be lighted up on the outside next to the Green Park; I went towards the Green Park, when I got to the further end of the place, I looked towards St. James's Park, I then noticed a woman crossing from the place, of whom I thought I had some knowledge; I followed that woman across the stable yard, and lost sight of her in that corner of it which leads into the Park; when I got into the Park, I noticed an old woman standing close to a window, and I observed that she was in close conversation with two women who were within the house, the sentinel was then standing near the window, but not quite close to it -

Q. When you speak of the sentinel, do you mean the prisoner at the bar? - A. Yes. I passed on, and went up the Park as far as Lord Grenville's garden; when I had got there, I recollected that possibly one of the women at the window might be the woman I had seen cross the stable-yard; I therefore returned to the window to lee whether it was so or not, and saw the old woman standing at the place at which I had first seen her, but the soldier had left the place where I had at first seen him; the old woman was in the Park, talking to two women, who were within the house; the prisoner was then standing behind the old woman.

Court. Q. What time might this be? - A. About a quarter after ten o'clock, either the old woman or the soldier had a mug in their hand; in order to see whether it was the woman or not, I entered into some foolish conversation with the women in the

house; there was likewise a man servant, I believe, belonging to the house, standing in conversation with them; during the conversation I had with these women, both the old woman and the soldier left the window. and went out of my sight.

Q. How long might any silly conversation, that you had, take up? - A. Three or four minutes; I noticed that when he was talking with the old woman, he had not his firelock upon his shoulder; as soon as I had done speaking to them, I went towards Lord Malden's garden a second time; when I had got as far as the steps of the Queen's Library, I noticed, as I passed him, that he looked in my face, and thinking that he was, perhaps, diverted at my speaking to the same woman that he had been speaking to, I said to him, as I was walking along, my friend, I suppose you would like to have something to do with those women; he answered, yes, that he should; on which, I said, then you had better go and ask them to come out to you, or do you wish me to go and ask them to come out to you; I am not certain which of the two phrases I made use of; while this conversation took place, he had followed me from the side of the steps where he was when I first saw him, to the other side of the steps, and the instant that I had said that, he seized me by the coat, and said, how dare you propose such a thing to me; I instantly struck him, so violently, that he very nearly fell to the ground, and dropped his firelock, his hat fell off his head; he at that time called for help, but in a very low tone of voice.

Q. At the time this conversation was passing, had you seen whether there was any person within any reasonable distance? - A. I am very certain that their was no person near; immediately a man ran past Lord Grenvill's garden, and laid hold of me by the right arm; that man. I believe, was Sharman.

Q. Do you know positively whether it was Sharman? - A. I have reason to believe it was him from his heighth; he called again for help, and a third man then came to his assistance, I think, of the name of Beeder, and he laid hold of my right arm also.

Q. Whether the tone of voice was at all raised in which the help was called for the second time? - A. I think it was, a good deal; the first that came to his assistance was a tall and a thin man, I may have made a mistake, and confounded the names; the second man was a shorter man; upon the second man coming up to the assistance of the soldier, the sentinel, Davis, said to him, take up my firelock; one of them answered, which I am not certain, you had better take it up yourself, but first load it; the firelock was taken up by somebody and given into Davis's hands, and when he had it in his hands, finding I still struggled with all three, one of them said, why do not you put your bayonet to his breast, or words to that effect; he accordingly did press his bayonet very strongly against my breast, so that I found a very strong pressure against my chest; he then said, God d-n you, I will not let you go unless you make me a present; I immediately put my left hand into my waistcoat-pocket and took out some shillings, I turned some out of my hand into his right hand, I believe three or four fell into his hand; he looked at them, and said, what is this, this is not enough; I immediately emptied the remainder that was in my hand into his, and was proceeding to give him some more; I was at that time so very much alarmed, that had I had a very large sum in my pocket I should certainly have given it all; I said to him, I had rather give all I have in my pocket than be detained; upon that a fourth man came up, dressed in coloured cloaths; I said to him, come here, and the soldier immediately called to him for help likewise; this fourth man walked up rather slowly, and as he walked it struck me he might possibly be a constable that I had seen sitting, in the day time, at the gate of St. James's Park; I said, is that a constable; two voices, from the four people then surrounding me, answered, yes, it is, but which of them it was I do not know; upon his coming up, he said, what is the matter; the prisoner said, that gentleman, or that rascal, or some such expression, that the person then in his custody, meaning me, had asked him if he wished to know a girl, and if his p-e p-s stood, and had put his hands into his breeches to feel, and grosser expressions than that; while he said that, my hand was in my pocket upon my money, I withdrew my hand from my pocket the instant that I heard that beastial accusation, and said to the constable, constable, instantly conduct me, with this man, to the Colonel of the Guard; the two men who first laid hold of me left me, and the man that I took for a constable took hold of my coat; I directed him to take me to the window where the girls were; he took me to the window, and they told the constable all the conversation that had passed, and the prisoner likewise told his story; I desired a second time to go to the guard; he said, that he would take me to the guard with a file of men, or, that a serjeant and a file of men should be sent for; I could not conceive why this constable had not authority to take me to the guard-house without waiting for a serjeant and a file of men; however, a serjeant and a file of men did come, he keeping me there; very soon after several serjeants came into the Park, and one of them desired to know what was the matter, serjeant Olive, to the best of my knowledge, came up first; upon his hearing the prisoner's account, I desired him to go to the window, and learn from the servants.

Q. How many people continued there? - A. The prisoner, the pretended constable, and the tall man, all surrounded me; the other was gone at my particular desire to fetch a serjeant and a file of men, they all staid in the Park; I went to the Mess-room, and asked for the Colonel of the Guard; some serjeants staid with Davis till they relieved guard, and then they brought him in, and two of the other persons concerned, the other had run away.

Cross-examined by Mr. Alley. I understand that you went that night to Astley's? - A. Yes.

Q. In returning home you went to see Lord Malden's house lighted up? - A. Yes.

Q. It was entirely accidental your being in the Park? - A. Yes.

Q. Had you been in the Park any time previous to that? - A. Never in my life at that time of night.

Q. After you had spoke to these women you went away? - A. Yes; the prisoner went away before me.

Q. The conversation with the prisoner took place in the Green-Park? - A. Yes, in consequence of his looking me earnestly in the face.

Q. After you had nearly knocked him down he called for assistance? - A. Yes; after having lost his firelock and his hat.

Q. And you gave him some money? - A. Yes.

Q. After the constable came up, and it was asked what charge the prisoner had against you, he said you had put your hand in his breeches? - A. Yes.

Q. This conversation did not take place till after you had given him the money? - A. No.

Q. Did not you give him that money to get away, in consequence of having knocked him down? - A. No; but because I was in great fear in consequence of the assault, that assault might be an intent to commit murder, for any thing I knew; I was afraid of my life, I was afraid of my liberty, and I was afraid of my honour, because I thought, being seen in company with such persons in the Park, if any person had passed who knew me, it would have been a very disagreeable thing, and therefore I would have given him, upon that account, a great deal more money.

Q. Was it not, after you had knocked him down, that you gave him the money, and then a scuffle took place? - A. The scuffle was at an end before that, I was completely imprisoned.

Q. Who made the first accusation when the other man came up? - A. The prisoner; the constable asked what was the matter, and he said, I had asked him if his p-s stood, and had put my hand into his breeches.

Mr. Fielding. I have a great many more witnesses, but I will not insult the prosecutor, by supposing that his evidence wants any aid.

Prisoner's defence. I am innocent of the crime that is laid to my charge; I was posted at the King's guard at nine o'clock; about ten, there came an old woman that washed for the people in the house, she knocked at the window once or twice, the window was opened, that was about six yards from my post; about half past ten, this gentleman came through the gate, into the Green-Park, he looked at me very hard, he turned up towards the Bason in the Green Park, he turned back, and looked at me again, I did not know what he meant; I was very dry, and I went up and asked the women if they would give me some clean water, or table beer; they gave me some, and that gentleman came up to the window, what conversation they had I do not know; I did not think it prudent for me to stop there; I went to my sentry-box, and laid down my firelock behind my box, and soon after that, the gentleman came up to me, and said, "soldier, should not you like to have connections with these girls?" I said, I should not mind it in the least, if I had one of them here, and he made no more to do than to take hold of my breeches, "sentinel," says he, "do your p-s stand?" no, says I, if I had them here, I don't know but they might; he opened the slap of my breeches, and took hold of my t-s in his hand, I had my firelock in my hand, I immediately seized hold of his coat, and said, what did he mean by that; I called out for assistance, and then Sharman came up; I said, I insist upon your taking charge of this man, he accordingly took hold of him, he made a scusstle to get away; I called out again for assistance, and then there came up another man, and then Sir John was still, he put some money into my hand, and said, I will give you any thing before I will be detained; no, says I, I will take you a prisoner to the Guard-room, and I sent Sharman to the Guard-room for a serjeant, and a file of men; accordingly they came, and I laid my charge, that this gentleman did so and so with me; I shewed the Colonel the money he gave me, and I was confined all night.

The prisoner called his serjeant, and James Skirving, a publican, who gave him a good character for morality.

GUILTY Death . (Aged 22.)

Tried by the first Middlesex Jury, before The LORD CHIEF BARON.


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