Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0, 16 September 2021), April 1815, trial of WILLIAM SAWYER (t18150405-1).

WILLIAM SAWYER, Killing > murder, 5th April 1815.

425. WILLIAM SAWYER was indicted for the wilful murder of Harriet Gaskett , on the 27th of April, in the 54th year of his Majesty's reign , at Lisbon, in the Kingdom of Portugal .

(The case was stated by Mr. Attorney General.)

WILLIAM EDWARD GREEN . Q. You belonged to the Auditers department, at Lisbon, in Portugal - A. I did.

Q. Was the prisoner at Lisbon at that time - A. Yes; he was in the Field Train of Artillery .

Q. Do you remember being at Mr. Ricord's - A. Yes.

Q. Was Mr. Fiander there - A. He was.

Q. Do you remember the deceased Mrs. Gaskett - A. I do; I remember her coming into the room in which Mr. Ricord and Mr. Fiander were; she was almost immediately followed by Mr. Sawyer.

Q. Did that party sit down to dinner - A. They did, with the exception of myself.

Q. What was the appearance of Mr. Sawyer at that moment - A. Great agitation.

Q. What day was this - A. The 27th of April.

Q. Did Mr. Ricord and Mr. Sawyer retire into any other part of the house - A. They did.

Q. What house was it - A. A private house of Mr. Ricord's.

Q. Who lived there besides Mr. Ricord - A. Harriet Gaskett , Mr. Ricord, and Mr. Sawyer. Mr. Ricord and Mr. Sawyer went out of the room; Mr. Ricord returned soon after; Mr. Sawyer did not. During the time that Mr. Ricord and Mr. Sawyer were out, Mrs. Gaskett went into another room, and had some conversation with me; she requested I should see them both, Mr. Ricord and Mr. Sawyer; and then Mr. Ricord withdrew with Mrs. Gaskett; I never saw her afterwards. Mr. Ricord returned very soon afterwards.

Q. When Mr. Ricord returned, was he much agitated - A. A great deal agitated; I then went with him into the tent in the front of the house.

Q. While you were there, what did you here - A. I was merely with Mr. Ricord walking up and down about a quarter of an hour, and then I went into the house, and searched for the deceased Harriet Gaskett , I did not find her; we then both of us proceeded into the garden at the back of the house, and during our search in the garden, we heard distinctly the report of two pistols; we went towards the spot from whence we had heard the sound, and upon our near approach to that spot, we heard the report of a third pistol; Mr. Ricord immediately left my arm, and went to the spot; he instantly returned exclaiming that both the parties were dead. We immediately went towards the house; on our near approach to the house, we were met by the servants; we all went in pursuit of medical assistance; not being able to procure any on the spot, Mr. Ricord and myself proceeded to the house of Mr. Tobin, he was a friend of Mr. Ricord's; we went there for the purpose of getting assistance. I left Mr. Ricord at Mr. Tobin's house; we then went to the City of Lisbon to get assistance.

Q. Did you see the bodies - A. I saw the two bodies at some distance from where I was in the garden.

Q. Did you know either of the bodies - A. I concluded from their appearance, that it was a man and a woman; I was certain of it; I have no doubt of it.

COURT. Q. You thought it was the body of Harriet Gaskett and William Sawyer , did you - A. No; they were laying on the ground when I saw them.

Mr. Alley. Q. I think you said, this poor woman's name was Gaskett - A. Yes; I never heard her called by any other name; she passed by that name at dinner time.

Q. The young man, Sawyer, seemed to be in a great agitation - A. In a great deal of agitation.

Q. Did not he seem to be that he was not master of himself? he seemed to be in that state that he was not in possession of his mind - A. I cannot go so far as that; all the parties appeared much agitated.

Mr. Knapp. Q. You knew the subject of their previous discourse - A. No, I did not. They all appeared much agitated.

Q. Had he been writing that day - A. I heard so.

COURT. Q. You said, you had a few moments conversation with him - A. At the dinner time.

Q. How long was that before your hearing the sound of the pistols - A. I should consider it near half an hour.

Q. What was the subject of your conversation - A. Not upon any particular subject.

Q. Did he talk rationally upon the subject whatever it was he was conversing about at dinner time - A. With much agitation.

Q. Did he appear to understand what you said to him - A. With much inattention to the subject I was mentioning.

Q. This was about half an hour before you heard the pistols - A. Yes, it was.

Q. Were they dining - A. All the rest were dining together except myself.

Q. They sat down to dine together as other people do who dine together, excepting their appearing agitated? There was nothing that struck you out of the ordinary course - A. No.

WILLIAM FIANDER . Q. You were employed as conducter of ordinary stores in April last - A. Yes.

Q. On the 27th of April, in the evening, did you go to the house of Mr. Ricord - A. No, on the 23rd of April.

Q. I am speaking of the 27th, the day of the death of Mrs. Gaskett - A. Yes, I was at the house of Mr. Ricord at the time,

Q. How lately before the death took place, had you seen Mr. Sawyer - A. About an hour.

Q. What office did he fill - A. He was an assistant commissary: he was not on duty at that time.

Q. Had you seen him that day in the morning, or afternoon - A. Yes, he rode out on horseback with Mr. Ricord and Harriet Gaskett .

Q. How long were they out - A. From about half past twelve until past two or three.

Q. After their return, did they sit down and dine together - A. They sat down to dine; only Harriet Gaskett ate any thing; Mr. Ricord and Mr. Sawyer sat down at the table, they partook of nothing.

Q. How long did you remain in the room with them - A. About half an hour; I sat down at the table, and remained in the room the whole time. About half past five, Mr. Ricord and Mr. Sawyer quitted the room; I did not see Mr. Sawyer again until about seven, an hour and a half after; I saw Mr. Ricord about six, and Mr. Sawyer about seven. When Mr. Ricord came in, he went out with Mr. Green; Harriet went out before Mr. Ricord, before half past six. The next that I saw was Mr. Sawyer, he came in with a handkerchief tied round his head; that was about seven o'clock.

Q. Was that after the firing of the pistols in the garden - A. Yes, it was; I had not heard the firing, I was told of it by Mr. Ricord; and after that, Mr. Sawyer came into the room with a handkerchief tied round his head.

Q. Had he the appearance of being wounded in the head - A. I saw no blood; the handkerchief was tied round his head as if he was not well; he ran to the table drawer to open it; I tried to prevent it, because I had seen pistols there; I was in ill health; I was not able to prevent him, he pushed me away; upon that, I went to another part of the house for assistance; I returned in about two or three minutes, as soon as I could get Mr. Ricord and Mr. Green; I then found the prisoner laying on the floor with his throat cut, and a case of razors laying by the side of him; he was taken care of directly, and a surgeon was sent for.

Mr. Curwood. I think you said, when these parties were at dinner, the prisoner and Mr. Ricord eat nothing - A. No.

Q. The prisoner appeared very much agitated - A. Yes.

Q. From the phrenzy state of the prisoner's mind, do you know or not whether he was going to use them pistols - A. Yes.

Q. Was not he in a phrenzy state of mind - A No, I do not think he was; he was very low indeed.

Q. You were apprehensive he would use the pistols against himself - A. Yes.

Q. Mr. Ricord told you they had shot themselves - A. Yes.

Q. What character did this young man bear - A. Good tempered and humane.

DANIEL TOBIN . Q. Were you at Lisbon at the time of this unfortunate transaction - A. Yes, I was.

Q. Did you know these persons before this unfortunate woman came by her death - A. Yes; I had known them about six or eight months; Mrs. Gaskett and Mr. Ricord lived in the same house together; Mr. Sawyer lived in the same house, and boarded with them.

Q. The day this unfortunate person died was the 27th of April - A. Yes, the 27th of April.

Q. How lately before she was killed had you seen these parties - A. I had accidentally called on the evening of the 26th, and seen them; Mr. Ricord complained of illness; I visited them the following morning; all the parties were together in the same room; they had been dining together, it appeared it was after dinner; I thought they appeared all agitated; Mr. Roach appeared ill; on the 27th Mr. Ricord was in bed. When I first called about eleven o'clock, the prisoner desired I would go with him, and view a piece of ground, and a house in the neighbourhood that he was thinking of renting; I accompanied him to the ground, and the house.

Q. How long had you been in company with him - A. Perhaps two hours and a half; he looked at the house; he appeared very auxious to take it, he persisted in taking it; I thought it objectionable for many reasons; when I returned home with him, he requested I would go back again, taking a portuguese servant with me that understood the English language to speak with the landlord about taking the place; he at the door left me without any reason assigned, and went up stairs; I remained at the door some time; I went up stairs, and asked him if he was going; he said, no, I will not go now; I went away.

Q. How soon after, did you see any of the parties that lived in that house - A. About eight o'clock, Mr. Ricord and Mr. Green came running into the my house, very much agitated; Mr. Ricord required I would repair to his house, that Harriet and the prisoner had murdered each other; I went immediately to the house; I found the prisoner laying on the floor in a room in Mr. Ricord's house with his throat cut, and a wound in one of his temples.

Q. Was she there - A. No. I remained there some time; I washed him, and dressed the wound, and had him removed into another room. In the room in which I first found him, the parlour, there was a paper which he had been writing.

Q. Upon your first going into the room, and you finding him on the floor, state what passed - A. Upon my enquiring for the female, he desired the paper might be handed to him, it was half a sheet of footscap paper, and pen and ink on the table; he wrote upon my enquiring, that she lay in the garden, at the back of the house, in the first lane.

Q. Did you happen to go and find that was a true description - A. Yes, I did, and found the body, she lay on her side in the front of the seat where she had been sitting, as it appeared; I saw a ball had passed through one temple and out of the other; I caused the prisoner to be washed, and placed upon a sofa in the drawing-room; about eleven o'clock Dr. Donnally came to dress him; I remained till two o'clock in the morning; the doctor dressed the wound; nothing material passed that evening. On the next morning I called again at eleven o'clock, Ifound him in bed; there were several gentlemen of the department of the prisoner in the house; we judged it adviseable that he should give an account of the transaction.

Q. In what manner was that communicated to him - A. I wrote it from my own and joint sentiments.

COURT. Q. Did you write it by the prisoner's dictation - A. No; I wrote it from certain facts and accounts that I collected from him, and the general reports in the house, and from what I saw after I had written it. I went into the room with it to Mr. Sawyer; I stated to him, that it was agreed by all the gentlemen, that he should state or avow the particulars of this unfortunate circumstance, and then read over this paper to him; he asserted to the truth of this paper; I read it distinctly over to him; he asserted to the truth of this paper, by writing and by words, he signed it, Dr. Donnelly witnessed it, George Pink , and myself, and Frederick Gay , we all signed it in his presence.

Q. In consequence of what passed between you and the witnesses, did you see Mr. Sawyer again - A. Yes; I went to Mr. Sawyer again on the 30th, I came to Mr. Sawyer on the next day, with an arrangement made according to my own mind; I read over the memorandum to Mr. Sawyer; Mr. Pink accompanied me. I read over that paper which had been signed on the 28th; I said, I considered the paper signed the day before, left room for a consideration, that the female had murdered herself, and requested that I might be permitted to amend it, as it wanted the word my.

Q. Read two or three words before that - A.

"From the unfortunate circumstance of my having laid violent hands upon myself, and the death of Harriet Gaskett , I solemnly declare that her death was accasioned by her having taken part of a bottle of landanum, and by my discharging a pistol at her head, at the back of the house I now reside in; I afterwards took the remainder of the vial of laudanum, and discharged two pistols at my own head, but failing in that, I went into Mr. Ricord's house, and cut my throat, to endeavour to put an end to my own existance, without any person being accessary there unto; signed William Sawyer , Daniel Tobin , George Pink , and William Donnelly ."

Royal Marine Hospital, Saturday, seven o'clock.

"The word my, interlined between the ninth and tenth line in the paper, is with my free concurrence, having been distinctly read over to me; and further I wish to add, that it was mutually agreed between us to destroy each other, and she requested that I would destroy her previous to my destroying myself, signed William Sawyer , witness George Pink , Daniel Tobin , William Donnelly ."

WILLIAM DONNELLY . Q. You were assistant surgeon to the Royal Artillery at Lisbon - A. I was, sir.

Q. Were you called upon on the 27th of April at night, to see the body of Harriet Gaskett - A. Yes; I saw the body in the garden of Mr. Ricord's house; she had a wound in the right temple.

COURT. Q. Had it gone through her head - A. Nothing had made its exit out; I apprehend the wound was occasioned by a pistol bullet, and that wound was the occasion of her death; she was dead when I first saw her.

Q. Were you present at the enquiry the next day into this business - A. I was; I was present when Mr. Sawyer put his signature to that paper, and I witnessed it; I think I saw Mr. Pink sign it, and Mr. Tobin.

Prisoner's Defence. A severe wound in my throat renders me incapable of distinctly articulating; I have therefore reduced to writing a few observations; no man could feel a greater regard for the young woman; never for a moment had I a thought of killing her; I have but a confused recollection of this melancholy event; I very much regret the absence of Mr. Ricord, he would have been a most important witness in my behalf, as he alone is acquainted with all the circumstances of this case; the gentlemen who conducts this prosecution, have done every thing in their power to obtain his presence; I understand their applications have been ineffectual; I express my acknowledgement for the endeavours they have used, I leave my case to your lordship and the gentlemen of the jury.

The prisoner called eight witnesses who gave him a humane and good tempered character.

GUILTY, aged 29,

But not with previous malice prepense, no further than what was incurred in the act.

Judgement Postponed ,

On account of the Court not being advised.

London Jury, before Lord Ellenborough.