IN pity to the memory of this wretched old man, we are inclined to hope that a sudden fit of frenzy alone hurried him to the commission of this most unnatural, horrid, and cruel murder. Samuel Mitchel was a weaver; and the very day before he had murdered his daughter, a separation had taken place between him and his wife, and the child, Sally, went that night to the lodgings which her mother had taken for herself. On the next morning the little innocent re turned, and was employed in quilling (i.e. putting silk on a shuttle for her father to weave with,) when the inhuman parent took a razor, and cut the child's throat from one ear to the other: the wound was four inches in length, and two inches in depth. He then left the house, confessed his guilt to an acquaintance, and then wandered about the streets till evening, when he found his way to his son-in-law's house, and was there apprehended. The officers went to his room, where the razor was found open, and covered with blood, within four or five feet of the unfortunate deceased: and, at the time the child was found, the blood was actually warm. After this had taken place, and the coroner had done what his duty required him to do, the prisoner was taken before a magistrate; and, after every merciful warning from the magistrate, he voluntarily chose to depose, and did confess the whole of this horrid transaction.
His trial came on at the Sessions-House, in the Old Bailey, Jan. 12, 1805, before Sir Archibald Macdonald, Knight, Lord Chief Baron of his Majesty's Court of Exchequer. The appearance of the prisoner, when brought to the bar, was squalid and wretched in the extreme: his hair was grey, and his head was covered with an old miserable night-cap.
William Godby deposed, that he had been married to the daughter of the prisoner for more than eight years; that the prisoner lived, on the 18th of December, 1804, in Wheeler-street, almost opposite Flower-de-luce court, Spitalfields, in the parish of Christ-church; that the prisoner was a married man; that he lodged in the top room of the house; his wife, and his child Sally, the deceased, had lived with him, but he and his wife had been separated the day before this horrid transaction. The prisoner at the bar was a weaver, and Sally, the deceased, used to be employed in winding quills for her father. He saw the prisoner at nine o'clock in the morning of this transaction, and did not see him again on that day, till about ten o'clock at night: he saw the prisoner at the house where he, the witness, lodged, and he told him he should not come into his room. About half-past twelve on the same day, after he had been to the warehouse with his work, he went up to see him; and, when he came into his room, he saw the child, Sally, lying in her blood, but did not notice the wound, he was so alarmed: he went down to the room under the prisoner's, and told Mrs. Nicholls, who lived in that room; he then went away: he had some of his master's property about him, and that he carried home: he returned a second time, and went into the room again, and saw Mr. Kennedy, the officer, there.
Mrs. Nicholls said, that she lived in the room immediately under the prisoner; that she was at home on the 18th of December, and said that the prisoner's wife had been with him that morning; that she had a light of her (to light his fire) before eleven o'clock; and that she heard Sally, the deceased, go upstairs, on her return from Spitalfields' charity-school, about twelve o'clock; she knew it was the little girl by the step, and that when she got into her father's room, she heard the quill wheel go, and she heard the prisoner's loom make a noise, which it usually did when he was weaving; shortly after she heard a woman go downstairs, and after that she heard a man's foot, but did not see either of them; that the prisoner had previously called out to her, a little before twelve, to know what o'clock it was; and that Godby, the former witness, came to her in about half an hour after she heard the quill wheel go, and the noise of the prisoner's loom when he was weaving; that she went up with him, and , saw Sally, the deceased, lying in her gore of blood; that she saw nothing of the wound, was afraid of going into the room, and called out to the landlord, "murder!" up on which he came up.
William Byron deposed, that he was on the 18th of December, the landlord of the house, No. 24, Wheeler street, but had since removed, and that the prisoner, at that time, lodged in the garret. That on the alarm of murder, he went upstairs, and took the child by the hand; then putting his feet across the body, he lifted her up by the waist, when her head fell back, and the gash appeared to him; he then gave the alarm, that her throat was cut, and desired them to go for a surgeon, and for her father, who he supposed was at the Elder-tree public-house, just by: he then looked round the room, to see he could find any instrument, but could not. He observed the quill-wheel was bloody, and the track of blood about the room; her cap was bloody, lying in the room, and she was all over blood, and so was he.
Edward Dellafour, a journeyman broad-silk weaver, saw the prisoner on the 18th, between the hours of twelve and one, at his apartments, No 26, Skinner-street, Shoreditch. He was at work, and the prisoner knocked at his door, upon which he let him in. The prisoner asked him to go down stairs with him, as he had something particular to communicate. He refused to leave his work, unless he would tell him his business; the prisoner then said, something had happened that day, which never had happened before, and that he should go to Newgate. Seeing him in that violent perturbation of mind, he reluctantly left his work; the prisoner having gone down stairs; and, anxious to know the cause of it, he followed, and found him at the street-door; they went about 50 yards from the witness's door; the prisoner then, with a countenance full of grief, turned round to him and said, "Ned, I shall die!" The witness asked him what had happened, or what was the matter with him; the prisoner said directly to him, "I have killed my Sally." The witness asked him if the child was dead; the prisoner said, "Yes, I have cut her head half off." It was a very severe morning, and the prisoner was shivering with cold; the prisoner desired the witness to go with him into a public-house, that he might warm himself, and have something to drink; they went into the first public-house they came to, which was the Cock and Magpie, in Worship-street, and had a pot of beer; the prisoner called for it, and a pipe of tobacco. There were three men and a woman there, entire strangers to the witness. The prisoner then said to the witness in the tap room, "Sit down, I have something to say to you." Seeing the strangers in the room, the witness thought it imprudent to speak before them, and desired the prisoner not to say it there; in about a quarter of an hour they went out. The witness asked the prisoner where he was going, and what he meant to do with himself. He said he was going to Shadwell to see two friends of his who were rope-makers, who would, when he was in prison, allow him a shilling or two; he then asked when the sessions would begin—the witness told him; he said, he would give himself up to justice, and suffer, with this remark, "it would make no odds to him if they cut him in a thousand pieces, for that when he went hundreds would at the same minute." The witness told him he should not have killed his child. The prisoner looked him in the face, and said, "I know that—do not you retort on me now it is done." The witness accompanied him as far as Whitechapel church, then shook him by the hand, and saw him no more till he saw him at the office; the witness said, the magistrate sent for him, and he gave the same account at that time as he now gave. When in the public-house with him, he observed a small quantity of blood on one of his hands.
Thomas Grice, a watchman of Bethnal-green, said that two men came to their watch-house, and gave information that the prisoner was in Hare-street, at his daughter's, and there the witness apprehended him, and took him to Bethnal-green watch-house, and then went and delivered him up to the officer of the Spitalfields watch house; as soon as he saw the prisoner, the prisoner said, he was the man that was guilty of the murder, and resigned himself up.
James Kennedy, an officer of Worship-street, received information of the murder about one o'clock in the afternoon, and went with Bishop into the prisoner's room, and there saw the deceased lying with her head towards the door, with no cap on, and her throat cut quite through the windpipe; she had done bleeding when the witness saw her, but the blood lying on the floor was warm. On the block of the quill-wheel there was a quantity of blood, and a track of blood from the wheel to where the body lay. Near the quill-wheel there was a low stool, and at the side of it he found a razor open. It was covered with fresh blood at that time. [This he produced in court, and a cap of the deceased, stained with blood, that had fallen from her head.] He, seeing there was no prospect of restoring life, with the assistance of Bishop, put the people out of the room. About twelve at night they received information that he was in Spitalfields watch-house. Armstrong and he went there, to satisfy themselves, and saw the prisoner sitting by the watch-house fire. He turned his head round, and saw the witness. He said, "Kennedy, I have given you much trouble today in searching after me." Armstrong said to him, "What do you mean by that? Is your name Mitchell?" He said it was. Armstrong again asked him, did he know he was charged with murdering his own daughter; and said, he had found a cap and a razor in his room. The prisoner then answered, with that razor he had often shaved himself, and with that razor he committed the horrid deed.
Joseph Moser, Esq. the magistrate of Worship-street office, stated, that the prisoner was brought before him to be examined on Wednesday, the 19th of December: he took down the whole confession of the prisoner in writing, telling him the consequences in every point of view, and the use that would be made of it after he had signed it: he repeated it over to him several times, said it was true what he had signed, and signed it in the magistrate's presence. The prisoner's examination, being now read in court, was as follows:
"Public-Office, Worship Street.
"The voluntary confession of Samuel Mitchell, weaver, for the wilful murder of his child, aged nine years, taken by Joseph Moser, Esq. December 19, 1804.
"I, Samuel Wild Mitchell, weaver, late of the parish of Christ-church, Middlesex, now standing at the bar of the Public office, Worship-street, being fully apprised of the nature of my situation by the magistrate, and through him made perfectly sensible of the nature of this acknowledgment, do make this free and unbiased confession, which is taken by my own desire:—That I had a daughter named Sally, and my wife had a daughter named Elizabeth, who at one time did live with me, but whom I afterwards took to my apartment, where I instructed her in the art of weaving, and we lived all together; this said daughter of my wife's caused some uneasiness, as I thought: and I thought my wife was more indulgent to her faults, and favoured her more than she ought, which was the reason of our separation on the 17th of December last; my wife also took with her Sarah Mitchell, whom I loved with the most ardent affection, which vexed me a great deal, as I saw there would be a continual dispute. I could not bear the little girl coming to see me, as coming on a visit. I resolved that neither my wife nor me should possess her. I seized the moment of the mother going away: the child was sitting by the fire winding quills. I took the razor from the drawer; my affection made me almost lay it down again; but my resolution overcame that. I turned round, and cut her throat. I was too resolute to make a faint attempt; the child was dead in a moment; she neither made noise nor resistance. When I had done the deed, the child fell. , As I went out, I saw her blood; then I ran downstairs. After this act was done to my child, Sarah Mitchell, I went to a man named Bell, where I had lived, and left word for him to run and secure my master's work; then I went to Mr. Delafour, and my friends at Wapping
This acknowledgment is free, and made by my own desire.
Signed SAMUEL WILD MITCHELL.
Dec. 19, 1804.
The prisoner having been now called on for his defence the wretched man addressed the court and jury in a manner above his rank or appearance. His defence was nearly as follows:
"My Lord, and Gentlemen of the Jury,
"I stand in this place to-day, an awful spectacle of guilt and disgrace; but I will endeavour to be as collected in my reason as possible, though at certain times and seasons I am particularly under heavy pressure of mind, which my wife well knows, and was well aware of; that I have committed the horrid deed laid to my charge I have no wish to deny, any more than I have to avoid the dreadful punishment that awaits my guilt; to that I am resigned; nor was it my wish from the unfortunate moment of my crime to evade justice; but that I committed the deed maliciously against my poor child, who was the victim of my fatal passion, I solemnly deny. Malice I had none. I declare in the presence of God, before whom I stand and make this declaration, and before whose awful tribunal I must shortly appear, instead of bearing to her malice, I loved her most tenderly. I had kind love to the child, and wished her not to be from me, and to that love, strange, and perverse as it may be seem, is owing chiefly the sad cause that brings me here this day. I am married to a second wife, by whom this child was an only daughter: we had long known each other before our marriage, when I was in better days, and when she and I were the wife and husband of others. I thought I could be happy with her; but I found her temper incompatible with my happiness or her own. I found the friends and the family with which she was connected thought her marriage to me degrading to her. Disputes and controversy, for ten years, frequently took place between us; in which, unhappily, both were in fault, too much so; those disputes were often carried to a pitch of fury (and may this sad spectacle that I now stand be a warning to others, that if they meet with double families to have more love to their duty); and what tended still more to exasperate me and aggravate our dissensions was, that those she called her friends always sided with her in everything, whether right or wrong; and many of them, I am sorry to say, who were strenuous professors of religious principles, were always more ready to lend a hand to the creating of mischief, than to the promotion of charity and peace:—may the Lord forgive them and take me to himself. Our disputes at last ended in a mutual agreement to separate, and the child I so tenderly loved was to go with her mother: this my unhappy temper and feeling could not bear, which led me to the fatal resolution that neither she nor I should have the child, by committing the horrid deed, by putting an end to her life in the manner I have done! I pray God Almighty to forgive me, and to direct you in your decision upon me this day; and though here I stand an object of sin and misery, yet I hope my unhappy fate will prove an awful example to those who form second marriages, with children on both sides, against giving way to intemperate disputes, that may lead them, as they have done me, to acts of desperation and vengeance, beyond the control of reason or reflection. If my wife was present, she could vouch and prove that it was impossible I could ever have deliberately executed such an act. She could testify that my disposition was not cruel; and that when I have been the most resolute to good purposes, unfortunately, under agitations of mind, or provocations of temper, such has been my weakness, I am not always the same man; and, under such circumstances, I have very frequently been led into excesses of frenzy, which, in cool moments, have astonished me. Once in particular, urged by distress, when I had no work, I applied for relief at my parish work-house. I had come too late in the day, when, wound up by disappointment to madness, I broke as many windows as cost the parish four pounds for the repair; and yet the parish-officers, though they might have punished me, did not, knowing that my act was the result of a mind deranged.—May the Lord forgive me, and take me to himself! I must die a spectacle of sin and horror!"
The learned judge observed to the jury, "That the fact of a person's being overcome by any sudden paroxysm of passion to commit a deed of so flagitious a nature operated as no justification of the crime. If God afflicted any man with a temporary or occasional want of reason, that was a different question. There, from the mere occasional suspension of the reasoning faculties, the crime might have been committed; but such could by no means be compared to the case where the dereliction of the reasoning faculties had been occasioned, either by the contemplation of a circumstance, by which alone the mind was affected, or by which, after its completion, the mind could be supposed capable of being agitated. Here a strange mixture of affection was discernible amidst the cruelty which had prompted the perpetration of the deed; but he could see nothing in the case to induce him to point out to the jury any distinction between this case and the various other cases of a similar kind which presented themselves."
After the Lord Chief Baron had made his remarks, the prisoner requested permission to speak again, which was granted immediately by the court. "There is one single point I have to say, which my wife could attest, if she was here, as she was well acquainted with my misery, as well as my mother's, who would frequently go into the same way: she was a very sensible woman; she would frequently ask me to cut her hair, for, unless her hair was kept cut in a very particular close manner, her weakness was upon her. So it has been with me."
The jury having found him guilty, the prisoner was asked, what he had to say for himself, why sentence of death should not be passed according to law. The prisoner distinctly replied, "I have nothing to say." The awful sentence, that he was to be hanged the succeeding Monday, and his body afterwards dissected and anatomized, was immediately pronounced by the Recorder; which the prisoner heard without any visible emotion. The court was crowded in every part, and particularly with ladies; and not only the women, but even the jury, the counsel, and nearly all present, were melted into tears. During the whole trial the prisoner appeared calm, but not insensible. He was very attentive to the evidence, and declined asking any questions of the witnesses. He appeared frequently to utter a low ejaculation.
On the morning after his trial, this unhappy man expressed a desire to see his wife, that they might exchange mutual forgiveness. The day following (Sunday), she came to visit him in Newgate, but so ill, that she was obliged to be brought in a hackney-coach, supported between two friends. As soon as the distressing interview was over, he applied himself devoutly to prayer, in which he continued nearly the whole of the day. On that day he was extremely solicitous to obtain Dr. Ford's promise to publish to the world that he died in the faith of the Church of England; and he was the more anxious it should be done, as it had been generally understood that he belonged to the sect denominated Methodists. At half past six o'clock, Mitchell's cell was unlocked, and the Ordinary attended him to the chapel to prayers; which being concluded, he returned to the press-yard, and there walked for some time, holding two friends by the arms; meanwhile his mind was occupied with his unhappy situation: he begged of all around him to pray with him. He first put up a prayer to Heaven for his own soul; next invoked a blessing on his wife, his two daughters by a former marriage, his son and daughter-in law, in the most pathetic manner. The unhappy man blessed the memory of his murdered child, and trusted the sacrifice he was about to make would, in some degree, expiate his crime in Heaven, which he did not despair to see. Then, in language which would have done credit to the pulpit or the bar, he besought God to grant His Majesty health and long life; to endue his ministers with wisdom, that it might be applied to the happiness and prosperity of his country, which, notwithstanding the convulsions by which it was surrounded, he prayed might endure under its present form of government till time shall be no more. He then expressed his gratitude to the magistrates, and to Mr. Newman, the keeper of the prison, for his humane consideration of him. He expressed himself most gratefully to Dr. Ford, for the consolation he had afforded him by his admonition and counsel, and repeatedly acknowledged, that he felt more comfort in the prospect of death, than he should in life, were a reprieve offered him. His last petition was to the Sheriffs, to request that, after the surgeons had practised upon his body, his mangled remains might be given to his daughter, for burial; which request the Sheriffs promised should be complied with.
On Monday morning, January the 14th, at a very early hour, every avenue leading to the Old Bailey was crowded by persons of various descriptions, all eager and anxious to witness the last moments of this unhappy man; indeed a greater crowd was seldom seen on any similar occasion; the houses then erecting in front of Greenharbour-court, St. Sepulchre's church, the pump, and the various lamp-irons, were all filled with the anxious multitude. About five minutes past eight o'clock the wretched delinquent came out of Newgate. His demeanour was perfectly calm, and he appeared most completely resigned to his fate. He was attended by the ordinary, who stood before him until the drop fell.
Mitchell seemed to attend with much earnestness and fervour to the admonitions of the clergyman, and he was seen to clasp his hands together the instant the rope was fixed. He was not allowed to remain long on the scaffold, as he was tied up almost on the instant after he came up. After the drop fell, he exhibited several times the appearance of feeling great pain, as he swung round twice, which was occasioned by the violence of the convulsive struggles he sustained. His body was, after hanging the usual time, cut down, and taken to St. Bartholomew's Hospital for dissection.