Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0, 10 December 2022), May 1819, trial of CHARLES RENNETT (t18190526-41).

CHARLES RENNETT, Miscellaneous > kidnapping, 26th May 1819.

809. CHARLES RENNETT was indicted for that he, on the 8th of November , a certain male child, named Joseph Charles Horsley , under the age of ten years (to wit,) about the age of three years, son of Joseph Horsley and Sarah Elizabeth his wife , maliciously, feloniously, by fraud did lead, take, and carry away, with intent to deprive them, the said parents of the child, of the possession of the said child, by concealing and detaining it from them its parents, against the Statute .

SECOND COUNT, the same, only stating that the child was taken, decoyed, and enticed away, instead of being taken, lead, and carried away.

THIRD AND FOURTH COUNTS, the same as the two former, only stating the prisoner's intent to deprive one Elizabeth Holebrook , spinster , having the lawful care and charge of the said child, of the possession of the said child, by concealing and detaining it from her, so having the lawful care and charge of the said child, against the Statute.

MR. JOSEPH HORSLEY . My wife's name is Sarah Elizabeth ; we were married on the 26th of April, 1813, two years before the child in question was born - we have four children. On Sunday, the 8th of November, I entrusted two of my children, Joseph Charles and Sarah Elizabeth , with Elizabeth Holebrook , the maid-servant - the boy was three years and a half old - she took them out in a little chaise about two o'clock in the afternoon, she was to return at four o'clock; we dine at five - she should have been home before that; she did not return.

Q. When did you next see her - A. On the Monday evening, at Bow-street.

Q. Did you discover any thing of your children before that - A. On the Monday evening I found the child, Sarah Elizabeth , at a public-house kept by Mrs. Bailey.

Q. Did you, in consequence of any suggestion, go to France to discover the prisoner - A. Yes; I sat off on Thursday, the 12th of November, accompanied by a friend and an officer. We went by Dover to Calais, in consequence of what we learnt; from thence we proceeded through Holland, and discovered the prisoner at Braak, in Germany, under the surveillance of - , at the hotel; I saw Mr. Macnamara there.

Q. When you saw the prisoner did any thing pass - A. On his seeing me he exclaimed

"Oh God! Oh God!" in great agony, and put his hand to his face. I remained in the room; he threw himself on the floor, embraced my legs, and implored mercy. I then left the room without making any reply.

Q. Did you afterwards see the child - A. I did, at the house of Mr. Macnamara, the Consul; it was the male child I had lost - (looks at the letter). I have seen the prisoner write, and believe it to be his hand-writing - (looks at a passport, signed S. Reynolds) - it does not appear like his usual writing, but I believe it to be his.

Cross-examined by MR. ANDREWS. Q. You have known the prisoner many years - A. I have known him six years. Since I have been married, I believe I have seen him about three times. He is my wife's first-cousin.

Q. Were you permitted to have possession of the child immediately on discovering it - A. I was not; I was told it was necessary I should identify the prisoner as the person who was named in the warrant, and I went to see him for that purpose, and that only.

Q. Had you not learnt, before you went to the prisoner, that it was necessary there should be some proof of your being the father of the child - A. It was intimated.

Q. Was it not for the purpose of getting that admittedthat you went to the prisoner - A. It was not, on my oath. I think the child was kept from me six days.

Q. Was it not restored to you at last by the prisoner's means - A. I am not aware that it was. It was determined that I should see the child without speaking to it, in the presence of the Government officers, the Consul, and others, and the child was to recognize me. This ceremony was gone through; the child was not then immediately restored to me.

Q. Was it not by the prisoner's means you got possession of the child much earlier than you should otherwise - A. I am not aware of it. He confessed it was mine without hesitation; I did not apply to him to do so.

Q. Did you not tell him that if he rendered you the assistance which the forms of that country required, you would render him every assistance you could here - A. On my oath I did not. I found the child none the worse in health for his journey; his clothes were rather coarse.

Q. How long was it from the time you lost it until it was restored to you - A. A little more than a fortnight. Holebrook was between sixteen and seventeen years old; she had lived a little more than two years with us.

MR. ALLEY. Q. Have you any doubt of the child being yours - A. No. The child came into the room, looked at two or three persons, and then at me; he gave a sort of hysteric laugh, and cried,

"Oh, papa! Oh, papa! my dear papa!" He recognized his mother and the whole of the family when he came home.

ELIZABETH HOLEBOOK . In November last I was servant to Mr. Horsley. I first became acquainted with the prisoner about two months before this circumstance. I got acquainted with him by walking out with the children.

Q. Did he propose to marry you - A. Yes, about a week before the 8th of November. He went by the name of George Faulkner .

Q. On Sunday, the 8th of November, were you out with the children - A. Yes, and saw the prisoner in Canonbury-lane. He accompanied me to Smithfield, as far as the hospital; we arrived there about three o'clock. He said he was going to his brother's, to see if his brother's luggage was ready to take to Birmingham, as he and his brother were going there in a post-chaise - I had the children with me. He returned in about an hour, and said a coach was ready, by which I must go to Birmingham, and he would meet me there that night. He said he had taken a place for me in the name of Jackson, and gave me 2 l. I went to take the coach.

Q. Did he accompany you any part of the way - A. I left him opposite the Saracen's Head, Snow-hill, with the two children. I had the key of my master's house with me; I told him to take the key and children home, he said he would.

Q. What passed before you asked him to take them home? had you expressed a wish to go with them yourself - A. Yes, and he said he would take them home himself.

Q. When did you arrive at Birmingham - A. On the Monday afternoon, at five o'clock; I did not find the prisoner there - I did not see him again until he was in custody at Bow-street. I returned to town on the Wednesday, about three o'clock, and told Mr. Oldershaw what had passed.

Cross-examined by MR. ADOLPHUS. Q. He left you at the Hospital-gate with the children - A. Yes, and returned and helped me to the Saracen's Head.

(The letter referred to was then put in and read, as follows:)

"MUCH INJURED SIR, - I scarcely know in what words to address you, and I tremble lest the moment you discover the hand-writing of one who has so injured you, you in your indignation should tear it to pieces. My own griefs it would ill become me to speak of to you, for they are caused by the wrong I have done you; but I intreat you to consider my poor mother - you know she is an affectionate one, and that I am bringing her with sorrow to her grave. There is also a wife and a beloved infant, for whose well-being I am necessary. Let these considerations operate upon you, for in punishing my crime you must infallibly bring misery on them. Through your mercy I might yet become a creditable member of society; for while I write this I call God to witness, that through the remainder of my life I will act in an upright way, and will, by my unceasing industry, (through your mercy) support myself and family, and be a comfort to my now wretched mother in her old age. O Sir, do not deprive me of the happiness I may yet give and receive. Most sincerely do I (or may I never hereafter be forgiven my sins) repent of my cruel conduct. I blush for myself, and only dare hope to obtain forgiveness from your being a parent and a son, and having the feelings of those ties. That you may prosper in life is not more ardently wished by any than by

"Your afflicted and repentant servant,

" CHARLES RENNETT .

"I beseech you ease my anxiety by a reply, and for God's sake let it be a merciful one."

Prisoner's Defence. My Lords, and Gentlemen of the Jury - Permit me to solicit you attention to an unfortunate young man, who wishes to state, as briefly as possible, the peculiar circumstances of his case. The course pursued by my prosecutor and his friends, who through the medium of the press, have branded me with the most gross and dishonourable epithets, renders it necessary for me most respectfully to intreat that you, gentlemen of the Jury, will take heed lest, unconsciously, you give a verdict under the influence of a mind tinctured with prejudice.

I have, as it were, been hunted down and stigmatized as the worst of human beings - described as a wretch devoid of feeling - one whom every parent ought to detest. Were I that infamous person, I should at this painful moment shrink from your sight, but, with the indulgence of the Court, I shall relate facts which, I trust, will induce you to cast back upon my accuser part of the odium he has industriously endeavoured to bring upon me - facts which, I feel convinced, will place the crime with which I stand charged in a different point of view.

You have heard the evidence in support of the offence imputed to me, but you are strangers to the injustice and oppression under which I have suffered. Let me intreat you, my Lord, and gentlemen of the Jury, to listen to a persecuted, much-wronged individual, and decide with that mercy and liberality which so eminently characterizes a British Court of Justice. I am the grandson of Mr. Charles Rennett , late of the Inner Temple. In the course of his extensive and respectable practice he realized a considerable fortune. He possessed several estates real and personal, independent of money in the funds, to the amount of several thousand pounds. The principal freehold estate(of the estimated value of 20,000 l.) situate in and including the manor of Wesmeon, in the county of Southampton, was given, under my grandfather's will, to trustees in trust for my father (the only son and heir of his body). He amply provided for his other children out of the remaining estate and funded property. At his decease, my father entered into possession of the estate bequeathed to him, and continued in the enjoyment of it up to the time of his death, which happened at an early period. He left a widow, a daughter, and myself - from that time I date all my miseries. Mr. Charles Dignum , the singer, had married my aunt, the sister of my father, who was executrix under my grandfather's will, and trustee of the estate bequeathed to my father, who at the time of the testator's decease was under age; upon her death, Mr. Dignum, as her legal representative, acted as sole trustee. My father, several years previous to his decease, was of an imbecile mind and dcoiliated constitution; he made a will in 1805, giving the whole of his property to his wife, his daughter, and myself, naming his wife executrix, and two respectable gentlemen his executors.

This distribution of property not meeting the views of Mr. Dignum, he, in 1809, in concert with Mr. James Agar , of Hare-court, Temple, a man known to my grandfather by being often at his table. Taking advantage of my father's mental weakness, they got him to sign, at Agar's chambers, a paper, previously prepared by Mr. Agar, which gave all his real estate equally between my sister, himself, and Agar's illegitimate child. His personal estate was given to a prostitute, who had been Dignum's servant, and then cohabited with my father. They named her executrix and themselves executors, leaving his wife now unprovided for. This scandalous will answered a double purpose - in the first place, it was calculated to increase my difficulties in recovering my birthright, the seizure of which was then in contemplation, as my father's decease was an event supposed to be not very far distant - Secondly, in case I ultimately succeeded in obtaining my birthright, it might afford a comfortable provision for Agar's illegitimate offspring. My father died, surrounded by his wife and children, under the impression that he had provided for his family by the will made in 1805, the only one known by them to be in existence, he himself (such was his mental incapacity!) having no trace in his mind of the will (if it deserves the name) made in 1809.

Judge of our astonishment and indignation when this villainous document was produced and read to us at Agar's chambers - Dignum acted alone as executor. After paying the tribute of crocodile tears to the memory of his departed brother, and vowing that he would be the friend of the widow and children, his first act was to lay claim to and take possession of the family estate; he then put up to sale all the personal property left by my father, including every article of furniture, which having accomplished, the widow and children were turned out of doors, to do the best they could for themselves.

The property included the residue of a lease of some houses in Grafton-court, the deeds thereof being in Dignum's possession, which, on being put up for sale, found no bidders, it being stated that the securities were lost; Dignum, the executor, became the purchaser at one-fourth of the value. Whenever I endeavoured to remonstrate with him on the injustice and cruelty of depriving me of my birthright, he stopped me by tauntingly asking me why I did not take legal steps for the recovery of it? well knowing, in addition to my being under age, and without a guardian, that I had not the means of purchasing the necessaries of life, much less to defray the expences of law proceedings. He knew he ought to have given me possession as heir at law; independent of which, it was his legal as well as moral duty, as trustee, to institute a suit in a Court of Equity, if he doubted my right to the property. After a lapse of about five years, I applied to a solicitor, who, at first, warmly advocated my cause; but, after a meeting held at the chambers of my prosecutor's legal adviser, he became the solicitor of my prosecutor, who, about this time (he being in humble circumstances) married Dignum's daughter. Five years had then elapsed since my father's death, during which, my poor aged mother and myself underwent all the miseries attendant on the lowest state of poverty. Dignum, taking advantage of my distressed condition, proposed to me, that if I would give a release to my claim on the estate, he would use his interest to procure me a situation in the East India House, or some office under Government - I indignantly rejected the proposal. Sunk in poverty, and despairing of the restitution of my right, I had no resource but to propose to these oppressors to receive a small compensation for my claim. The business was negociated by my prosecutor on behalf of himself, Dignum, and a Miss Faruell, who also claimed an interest in the property. Every circumstance that appeared calculated to bring me into an acceptance of their own terms, was eagerly laid hold of by my prosecutor. My father's will of 1809, my poverty, and consequent incapacity of prosecuting vigorously with legal proceedings, were coutrasted with their ability to protract the suit for a number of years, which Mr. Horsley assured me it was their determination to do if we could not come to terms. Thus situated, I was reduced to the deplorable necessity of disposing of my title to an estate, for a sum not amounting to one-half the proceeds thereof received by my oppressors since my father's death.

Under all these afflictions, they would yet have enjoyed peaceable possession of the property, had not their subsequent injustice have worked me almost to a state of frenzy. Miss Farnell, the young lady before alluded to, was left an infant orphan under my father's roof. I looked forward to her giving a proof of her gratitude to her benefactor in the person of his widow or children, particularly as she was unmarried, and had no near relatives. - she was at this time in the last stage of a fatal disorder. On the day of the compromise, she told my sister she was very unhappy, she had not a friend in the world, and had ever lamented losing the protection of her uncle Rennett - no one had ever treated her with kindness but him. Mrs. Horsley used her very ill, and she wished to alter the distribution of her property, but had no power to follow her own inclination. The following day she signed a will, leaving her property (except some gift to charity) to Dignum, Horsley, my prosecutor, and the illegitimate son of James Agar . She died a few days after signing the will. Dignum, the executor appointed thereto, sent a letter to my sister, stating that she was remembered by the testatrix, who had left her twelve yards of black ribbon - the rest ofthe family, he said, were not named. The whole of this property, amounting to several thousand pounds, was derived from my grandfather.

Can it be credited that this young lady (laying under the greatest obligations to my father, and which she always readily admitted, and after what had passed between her and my sister the day previous to her signing this will), would, if left to the exercise of a free will, have so disposed of her property. Could she, then on the brink of eternity, be capable of acting such a cruel, ungrateful and deceptive part? most assuredly not. It is too revolting to common sense to suppose it.

This last act of avaricious villainy inflamed me to an excess I cannot describe, and finally urged me to commit the offence which has brought me into my present unhappy situation.

My Lord, and gentlemen of the Jury - here I entreat you to feel for my wrongs; repeated injuries too often goad and drive men to the commission of crime - such has been the case with me. I am sensible of having done wrong. Reflection, which brings conviction to the mind, has shewn me my error; but I hope and trust, when the provocation is considered with the act, you will say the offence is deprived of that false glare and enormity the prosecutor and his friends have given it.

This case differs from all others that have hitherto occupied the attention of a British Court of Criminal Justice. A series of private injuries have given birth to a public crime. Not possessing sufficient command to submit to the wrongs inflicted by my prosecutor and his friends, I have committed an act which gives my prosecutor an opportunity he will not let slip, of completing the ruin he has so successfully began, unless shielded by the mercy of those whom I now have the honour of addressing.

The parental care and kindness that the child which accompanied me experienced, proves that I am not that abandoned hard-hearted wretch which the prosecutor has described me. By voluntarily acknowledging him to be the father of the child, I enabled him to obtain immediate possession of him, and return to England, which he could not otherwise have done. I made every reparation in my power, and received in return his promise (in writing) of mercy.

I thought my prosecutor sincere in his profession of mercy. At Bow-street he pretended that he gave the promise under the idea that my offence was punishable with death. Can such ignorance of the punishment of my offence be credited, in one whom it so essentially concerned? is it not more reasonable to infer that he subsequently regretted giving the promise, and wished to avoid it? His endeavour to explain it away, however, destroys the effect intended, for it proves that he did not give it as a promise of mercy; and his repenting of it does not make it less a promise. I have only to add, that I have suffered six months confinement, five of which I have been in a foreign country, and that a beloved infant has perished in a prison, where its mother was taken on suspicion of being an accomplice.

Relying on your candour, I throw myself upon your most humane consideration.

GUILTY . Aged 28.

Transported for Seven Years .

London Jury, before Mr. Justice Bayley.