JAMES SISK.
9th December 1830
Reference Numbert18301209-176
VerdictNot Guilty > non compos mentis

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Before Mr. Justice Littledale.

176. JAMES SISK was indicted for that he, unlawfully, maliciously, and feloniously, by drawing the trigger of a certain pistol, loaded with gunpowder and a leaden bullet, did attempt to discharge the same at John Kingsbury , with intent to kill and murder him ; against the Statute.

EIGHT OTHER COUNTS, varying the manner of laying the charge.

MR. ALLEY conducted the prosecution.

PATRICK SHERIDAN . I am a chemist, and live in Horseferry-road. On Tuesday, the 7th of December, I was in the neighbourhood of the House of Lords; I left Scotland-yard between one and two o'clock, and staid there about two hours - the prisoner came and stood by the pillar where they usually dismount to go into the House of Lords; when he had stood there about half an hour, he came over to where I and another man were standing, and asked us if the Duke of Wellington had gone in yet, and said, he wanted to speak to him; I said, "This is a very unlikely place for you to speak to the Duke of Wellington" - he said "I would make him speak to me, if I was to see him;" he then said, he was sent by the Almighty to take away the heads of the land - I told him, the Duke was gone into the house; he then asked, did I think what time he would be out - I said, I could not tell; a few minutes after that the Duke's horse and servant came down - I told him, that was the Duke's horse and man, if he wanted to see him to speak to him; the servant rode up and down for some time, till he was called - he then drew over near to us, where the gentlemen come down from the House of Lords; a cloak was handed to the servant, and he went away - the prisoner came over to me again, and told me he would wait till next day, and if he did not meet the Duke of Wellington, he would meet some others of the heads of the house - I then accompanied him as far as the Strand, and in parting, he said he should be there next day at eleven o'clock, and I should see him execute his order - I went into the Secretary of State's office, and gave information of such a person coming; I kept walking up and down next morning to look for him, but did not see him.

FREDERICK CHARLES STOLL . I am keeper of the House of Lords . I was there on the 8th of December, and saw the prisoner a little after ten o'clock walking up and down the colonade, which is the principal door at which the Peers enter; he kept walking up and down for about half an hour, and was then joined by another person who instantly after left him, and he took his station under the colonade, by the door leading to the King's entrance -I was within the door of the Peer's entrance about the time he took his station, and when Mr. Gilbert arrived and came on duty, I told him what I had observed, and pointed the prisoner out; Mr. Gilbert went out and spoke to him, but what passed between them I cannot say - I saw Mr. Gilbert take him by the collar; the prisoner instantly took a pistol out of his pocket; Mr. Gilbert retreated a little, appeared rather alarmed, and ran down the colonade, saying the man had got a pistol - I instantly rushed through the doors and followed the prisoner, when he had got about half way down the colonade.

Q. Was he going after Gilbert? A. At the time, when he got half-way down the colonade, he made a sudden stop, turned round, and went into the road; I followed him - Kingsbury came towards him for the purpose of endeavouring to secure him, and when Kingsbury was within about a yard of him, he (the prisoner) levelled the pistol at him, in a direct line, as far as I could judge, to his head; Kingsbury had not touched him at that time - the prisoner then snapped the pistol, and a spark arose from the concussion of the flint against the pan; he was then taken into custody by myself and two more - it was a screw barrelled pistol; I saw it unscrewed, and there was a ball in it - we succeeded in throwing him on the ground, and while on the ground a knife was taken out of his left-hand great coat pocket; he was then taken into the coffee-room at the House of Lords, and given into the custody of the Black Rod, Sir Thomas Tyrrwhitt ; Kingsbury took the pistol from

him previous to throwing him on the ground; he took it from his right-hand - it was the pistol he had snapped; I did not observe whether the pan was down or not.

Cross-examined by MR. PHILLIPS. Q. You saw the pistol unscrewed? A. Yes, afterwards, and there was a ball in it - I saw it at the examination, but did not have it in my hand; I cannot take on myself to say there was powder in it.

RICHARD GILBERT . I am deputy-marshal of the King's household. On the 8th of December I was going to the House of Lords, on duty, and saw the prisoner there - I had seen him at the house on the Tuesday night, for a few minutes; when I came in the morning, Stoll informed me he had been there - he came again about a quarter to twelve o'clock, when I was at the house; I went out, seeing him through the glass - I asked what he wanted there, and who he was waiting for; he said he was waiting for a friend of his - I asked if his friend was the groom he had been seen talking to in the morning - (I had not myself seen that) he said it was not; I asked who it was he was waiting for- he said it was a person of more consequence, or words to that effect; I told him I did not like his appearance, and should take him into custody - he asked me by what authority I took him into custody - I collared him with my left-hand, for the purpose of taking him into the house, and after I collared him he took out the pistol, and levelled it at me; I was dressed in plain clothes, for I had not time to put on my uniform - when he asked by what authority I collared him I told him I was a King's officer, and he told me to show my authority; I made no reply, but collared him - he had his hands in his great coat pocket at that time, and he took the pistol from the right-hand pocket; he levelled it at me - I cannot say exactly at what part; I heard the pistol snap - I turned my head, and loosed him of course; I saw either the sparks or flash of the pistol, I cannot say which, because my back was towards him - I was dragging him into the house: on my loosing him he walked leisurely into the middle of the street, opposite to where the Peers are sat down - I called to Kingsbury and the witness to take him; when Kingsbury came up to my assistance, he ran up to the prisoner, and was going to assist me to take him; as soon as Kingsbury saw the pistol he drew back for a moment - the prisoner still had the pistol in his hand; Kingsbury and the witness closed in upon him, and got him down - he had presented the pistol at Kingsbury, and pulled the trigger; I saw the sparks - he must have cocked it again; when I saw the sparks Kingsbury closed in upon him, and Bryant got him behind - they got him down on the ground, and while we had him down Kingsbury wrenched the pistol from his hand.

Cross-examined. Q. You cannot remember the transaction very well, I should think? A. Yes, I can; I did not run away - I only ran about ten yards from these two men.

Q. Storr says the prisoner ran after you? A. No such thing, for he did not go ten yards; I saw the pistol examined at Clerkenwell, but not before - there was a ball and flint in it; I will not say whether there was any thing else in it - Ruthven, the Bow-street officer, examined it; I was by his side, and merely looked at the ball, to see if it fitted the ball which he had in his pocket; he did not turn it up to see if there was any powder in it - he screwed it up again; I did not see him examine for powder.

COURT. Q. You mean you do not know whether he examined to see for powder? A. No; I saw him take the ball out, and try another which he had in his pocket - I saw the pistol snapped, and saw sparks; I did not observe any smoke - I must be about half a yard from it when he snapped it at me; I was at arms length - I saw no smoke at either time.

JOHN KINGSBURY . I am porter at the House of Lords . On Wednesday, the 8th of December, about twelve o'clcok, I saw the prisoner there - I did not see him do any thing with the pistol; I heard Mr. Gilbert call out to stop him: I saw the prisoner, and attempted to stop him - I got within a quarter of a yard of him, and he snapped the pistol against my cheek; there were sparks from the flint - the pistol did not go off; I received no hurt - I afterwards saw him searched, and a knife found in his pocket; the pistol was taken from his hand - I did not examine it myself then.

COURT. Q. How near was the pistol to your cheek? A. About an inch; I had run up to stop him, but did not touch him before he snapped the pistol, nor did I say any thing to him - he was walking very fast towards me, but I walked faster than him, and to him.

Cross-examined. Q. You say the pistol was close to your cheek? A. It snapped against my cheek; it was within a few inches of me - I saw no smoke.

Q. If any smoke had flashed up out of it, must you not have seen it? A. I must; I examined the pistol at Clerkenwell, and found a ball in it, but did not see any powder in it at all - I only examined the ball; I saw Mr. Gilbert pull the ball out.

COURT. Q. If there had been powder must you not have discovered it? A. Yes; there was none - the barrel unscrews close to where the powder would be.

MR. ALLEY. Q. The ball rests on a concave surface? A. Yes; the apperture through which the powder is admitted is very small - there might be powder in it without my seeing it; I only looked to see if there was a ball.

COURT. Q. How came you to say, if there had been powder you must have discovered it? A. I did not examine - I only saw the ball taken out; the chamber for the powder under the cup was examined at Clerkenwell: I saw no powder - if there had been any I think I must have seen it; I cannot say whether there was any or not.

THE REV. JOHN WELLINGS . On Wednesday last, about twelve o'clock, I was at the drawing-room window, of No. 1, Palace-yard. I saw the prisoner and another person standing near the steps, at the entrance to the House of Lords - I saw one of the two (not the prisoner) step back, and immediately the prisoner presented at him a pistol, which flashed in the pan; he presented it at the other person, who was then apparently receding from him.

Q. By flashing in the pan do you mean that there was more than sparks, or the appearance of powder? A. There was a slight discharge of powder; I then saw two men approach the prisoner rapidly, and saw nothing further, for I ran immediately down stairs, and crossed the road to their assistance - I found the same two men there; it was one of those had snapped the pistol; I assisted to take the prisoner into the House of Lords - he talked very incoherently,

and stated that he had a commission for the destruction of the heads of the land, referring at the same time to his pocket-book, as containing that commission, or some letters which would give an explanation of his conduct - I was at Clerkenwell when the pistol was examined; I saw it unscrewed and the ball taken out, but there was no examination made as to whether it contained powder.

Cross-examined. Q. You was there, I suppose, from beginning to end. till the pistol was taken away? A. Yes, except while I crossed the road - I cannot say there was powder in the pistol; it was pointed at Mr. Gilbert when I saw it flash - I saw nobody at that moment, except Gilbert and the prisoner.

GEORGE THOMAS RUTHVEN . I am a principal officer of Bow-street. The prisoner was given into my charge on Wednesday last, but not the pistol; I found that in Mr. Gilbert's possession, and believe he has it now.

MR. GILBERT. I have produced the pistol here to-day in the same state as I took it from the prisoner, except that Ruthven unscrewed it at Clerkenwell; I took it from Kingsbury, when he had hold of the prisoner - he had just taken it out of his hand when he was down; I saw Ruthven unscrew it, to see if a key would fit - it was returned to me, and I have had it ever since; we did not search all the prisoner's pockets at the time; Ruthven found the key in his pocket with some ball.

GEORGE THOMAS RUTHVEN (unscrewing the pistol). There is powder in it now.

COURT. Q. Could any portion of the powder have escaped? A. It appears, by the paper it has been wrapped in, that some has escaped - here is some in the paper now; here is the knife (producing a sort of carving knife).

Q. Might not some portion of the powder have escaped from the pan as well? A. Certainly, some portion has escaped from the pan - after the pan was opened it would fall out of the barrel into the pan, through the touch-hole; immediately on the prisoner's being put into my custody I put him into a coach, and took him to the House of Correction - I searched him, and in his right-hand waistcoat pocket I found this pistol key, two bullets, some powder in a paper, and a Prophetic Almanack - the claspknife and almanack were in his right-hand breeches pocket - the key fits the pistol; I opened it with it.

MR. GILBERT. The large knife produced I took from his left-hand coat pocket naked, not in a case.

JURY. Q. Was the pistol examined previous to your giving it to Ruthven? A. No, I did not open it; I had no key.

The prisoner (who had frequently interrupted the witness, and conducted himself in a wild and incoherent manner) being called on for his defence, stated, as near as could be understood, as follows: - "I have nothing to say - I did what I was commissioned to do by God Ahnighty, and if I had done what I was commissioned to do, every man would have trembled at my presence; it is ten years since God gave me the commission - I went to Baltimore to get a commission, but by the providence of God I did not succeed; I left there, and while I was in the ship the idea came into my head that punishment would meet the inhabitants of the whole earth - I found the hand of God upon me in the vessel; I asked the captain to direct the ship to go back - he asked what I meant, and would not; God Almighty, by a miracle, all at once changed the wind, and it was obliged to return, I went to the city, and gave myself out to be a prophet to warn them all of the approaching destruction; I came home to this country - it wore off, but it would not let me be quite; I came to London a few months ago, determined to preach to the people, and tell them of the judgment of God - I saw death staring me in the face, and I pledged myself to Almighty God that I would then go and preach to the people if he would spare me, and I would put my order into execution; if I had gone to the head Magistrate of the City, and put an end to his life every man would have trembled at my presence: it is shocking to think that the fifteen thousand souls who fell at Waterloo, who that Glorious Being came down and spilt his precions blood for, should be all demned if I had not seen a spot in the sun which has never been seen since the creation of the world, and it is a sure sign that the son of God is coming."

GEORGE THOMAS RUTHVEN re-examined. I conceive a pistol of this sort may be loaded at the touch-hole - there is some portion of powder in the paper, and in the pistol; I do not think what now remains would be sufficient to discharge the ball with any effect - I examined it on the Saturday following; it might have been loaded at the time, and the powder have escaped in the intermediate time; Mr. Gilbert held it quite upright in his hand - I put the key in, unscrewed it, and found the ball.

MR. GILBERT. The pistol was not put into paper till the Saturday, when I put it in to take it to Ruthven - Sir Richard Birnie wrapped paper round the touch-hole; the powder might have escaped before the Saturday - a numof persons had handled it.

MR. PHILLIPS. Q. What is the reason you did not examine to see if there was powder in it? A. I did not know I was authorized to examine it - I was desired to let it remain as it was.

MR. GILBERT McMURDO . I am surgeon of Newgate, and since the prisoner has been there I have observed his demeanour, and attentively examined him to ascertain his state of mind, and, as far as I can judge, I think him insane - he repeated his story to me verbatim as he has today; I put various questions to him, and could not come to the conclusion that it was put on.

MR. WILLIAM JOHN BOX . I am assistant to Mr. M'Murdo; I have seen the prisoner, while confined in Newgate, daily, and conversed with him - his conversation has been almost the same as his defence to-day; I think him certainly insane - I should certainly say it was not affected, but real.

ANN MARIA SISK . I am the prisoner's cousin, and have known him from a child - he has been a seafaring man; I have lost sight of him a great many years - the last time I saw him was about the 26th of October - he called at my house, and spoke to me about visions; he said he had recently come from Amercia - that he had been sent with a mission to preach repentance; he told me he had been put in prison some years since in Baltimore, for attemting to preach with a sword in his hand, and I believe threatening to destroy the authorities there - he told me that in his passage home this time the Lord had wrought a miracle, and changed the wind when he wished the captain to put back - he spoke of visions which he had seen, but I cannot recollect the particulars; he said he was afraid to stay in Ireland for fear of his life - I asked why, he said the country people would attack him on account of his once having had property in tithes - he asked for a Bible, and wished to preach to me, and said something

about his guardian having robbed him - his guardian is now dead, but I believe him to have been a strictly honourable man in every respect; I felt alarmed, and did all I possibly could to pacify him - he offered me no violence; I have conversed with him twice within thirteen years - he was always incoherent; my father was a captain in the merchant-service, and took him first to sea - he was his second mate when he was twenty-one years old; I was a child at that time, but I recollect hearing of his changing a watch of his father's for an old rusty gun - I have heard some account of his attempting to fire at his father, but I was quite young then; he has a sister now in the Cork Lunatic Asylum, and his brother died raving made in a lunatic asylum somewhere near Cork - the last time I saw him I spoke in very strong terms to my father to write to his relations that they should have some care taken of him -I did not think him safe to be at large; I had said I thought him insame many years ago - I should say he is decidedly insane, and I think it a family disease.

CORNELIUS DONOVAN . I am a wine-merchant, and live in Howard-street, Norfolk-street, Strand - I was born at Cork; I have not seen the prisoner for eight years till to-day. About eight years ago, I was surprised at his suddenly telling me that he had seen visions, and I think he said he had seen two visions, one was while he was on ship-board, in America, but I cannot recollect the particulars; as well as I can recollect the purport of it was that the world was coming to an end - he was generally thought to be of unsound mind after he came from sea - he kept talking of visions, and fancying a conspiracy on his family, to rob him of his property - this was about eight years ago; his guardian's character was such as not to admit a belief that what the prisoner said was true- I believe him to be decidedly insane - he was certainly insane on the point of seeing visions, and being the victim of a conspiracy.

MR. MCMURDO. We consider delusions a very common test of insanity; and that of a man's family conspiring against him is one of the most common, and what we are apt to regard as a test of an unsound state of mind.

NOT GUILTY, being insane at the time of the commission of the offence .


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