Convicted of Rape, 31st October 1839
THE case of this individual presents circumstances of so remarkable a character to our notice, that we should be guilty of a neglect of our duty if we omitted their recital.
At the Central Criminal Court on Thursday, the 31st of October 1839, George Cant, a publican aged forty years, was indicted for a rape upon Jane Bolland, and in order that the course which the case took may be understood, we shall repeat the evidence which was given by the witnesses at the trial in preference to a general narrative of the proceedings.
Jane Bolland deposed that she resided with her brother in Solomon Terrace, St George's-in-the-East. On the 30th of September she went to live as barmaid at the Windsor Castle public house, Holborn, kept by the prisoner. She slept in one of the attics and the prisoner and his wife slept in the room underneath. The prisoner called her on the morning of Thursday, the 3rd of October. When she came down to the bar, the prisoner patted her on the cheek with something; he laid his hand upon her breast and insisted upon kissing her. She threatened to inform Mrs Cant of his conduct, and he said, "What the eye did not see the heart would not believe." He then wished her to leave the door of her room open that he might come in when he came to call her in the morning, but she told him that she was not the sort of person he imagined her to be and left the parlour. In the course of the day her brother and a person named Balfour called upon her, and she communicated to them what the prisoner had said and done to her. Mr Balfour said that, after what had passed, he did not think the prisoner would again attempt to use indecent liberties with her, and her brother, at the suggestion of Mr Balfour, advised her not to leave her situation. Subsequently on that day she became unwell, and about eight o'clock in the evening she was conveyed upstairs to bed, but she was then so ill that she could not recollect who went up to her room with her. She was insensible when she reached her bed, but during the night she partially recovered, and then she found the prisoner at the bedside. He placed one of his hands upon her mouth to prevent her calling out, a struggle took place and she fainted. There was a candle on the table in the room. About six o'clock in the morning she recovered her senses, and found her clothes, which had not been taken off; in disorder, and the bone of her stays broken: the offence charged in the indictment had been committed when she was in a state of insensibility. She then saw the prisoner standing at the door of her room, and she cried out to him, 'You villain, you shall not come in.' He answered that she was a drunkard and should not again enter his bar. She went downstairs to inform Mrs Cant of what the prisoner had done, but when she told that person that her husband had used indecent liberties with her, Mrs Cant said, 'I will not hear you, you drunken hussy.' She immediately left the house and went to her brother's, where she told what had happened to her. On the Saturday following she was examined by a medical gentleman.
On her cross-examination by Mr C. Phillips, who appeared for the prisoner, she stated that a young man named Joseph Edwards had slept at her master's house on the night of the 3rd of October, and that he accompanied her home on the next day. He was a friend of Mr Cant's and she had observed him in attendance at the Court. She was subject to a swimming in the head, and was suffering from this complaint when she went to bed on the evening in question. She was not intoxicated and had taken nothing during the whole day, with the exception of one glass of half-and-half.
The brother of the prosecutrix and Mr Balfour, a wine-merchant's clerk, corroborated that part of the evidence of the witness, which referred to her conversation with them. Bolland further deposed, that his sister had some years previously suffered from a severe attack of erysipelas in her head, from the effects of which she had been for some time insane. She was still occasionally subject to determination of blood to the head.
The wife of Bolland, and the medical man referred to, both gave evidence which left no doubt that the offence which was complained of by the prosecutrix had been committed upon her person, and Mrs Bolland declared that her sister-in-law, when she saw her on the Friday, exhibited all the agitation which might be supposed to be incident to such an occurrence.
The prisoner was proved to have been taken into custody by a constable named Wells, when he said that he had 'only kissed the girl'. This closed the case for the prosecution.
Mr Phillips then addressed the jury for the prisoner, and disclosed a most extraordinary defence on his behalf. He disclaimed all intention of impeaching the young woman's character and was happy that he had no reason for making even an insinuation against her in regard to her conduct previous to this occasion. That she was deeply to be commiserated he owned, and that she had come here to tell what she believed to be the truth, he had not the least doubt. He was sure, however, that both reason and a sense of justice would compel the jury (if the witnesses he intended to call for the prisoner should speak the truth) to say that they could not see their way through the case, and that such doubt was created in their minds, as would warrant them in acquitting the man at the bar.
He approached the defence of the prisoner with the greatest anxiety of mind, because, if the evidence he intended to adduce should be discredited, the consequences to the prisoner would be truly awful. The giddiness in the head had induced those who had only been acquainted with the girl for four or five days to believe that she was intoxicated; and this was most natural, for the swimming in the head would produce all the appearances of intoxication. She was taken upstairs by a servant of the prisoner, who would describe her appearance at the time, and would also state that the young man Edwards came to the door with her. That she had been violated there was not the least doubt, but that the prisoner had committed the offence was by no means clear, and it would be his duty to call the young man Edwards, who, if he (Mr Phillips) was rightly informed, would state that he was the guilty party. The young woman had given her evidence very fairly, however, and had doubtless stated only what she considered to be truth. After Mr Cant had been committed, Edwards had called at the office of Mr Williams, the solicitor for the prisoner, and made a disclosure which left no doubt of the innocence of the man at the bar. He did not mean for an instant to justify the conduct of Edwards, and it was a pity that he did not make all the amends in his power to the young woman. He was a young unmarried man and might have done so. It was unlikely the prisoner committed the offence, for, if he had been guilty, it was not probable that he would have conducted himself towards the young woman as she had stated he had done in the morning after she had recovered from her illness. He (Mr Phillips) believed he had been a foolish man in using even the liberty he himself confessed he had done with the girl, and it would be a warning to others to beware of the consequences of the smallest deviation from a virtuous line of conduct. The liberty he had used in the morning had induced the girl to suppose that he had committed the capital offence upon her during the night. Unfortunately there were many cases in which the innocent suffered for the guilty, but there was no instance in which the innocent had actually come forward to place himself in the situation of the guilty. It was very unlikely that an individual, entirely innocent of a capital charge like the present, would come forward and put a rope about his neck, in order to free the man who had actually committed the crime. He could not, therefore, see any reason to throw doubt on the testimony of Edwards.
Jane Hollier was then called, and, on being sworn, stated that she was at the Windsor Castle public-house, when this transaction was stated to have occurred. At about eight o'clock she assisted the prosecutrix to bed. Witness thought she was in a state of intoxication at the time. About twelve o'clock witness again went up to the bedroom of the prosecutrix, accompanied by Joseph Edwards. Edwards remained at the door while she went in. She asked him to come up with her, as there was only one candle. The poor girl was lying on the bed, with her clothes on, asleep; witness covered her with blankets. Witness was in the room about five minutes, and the door was closed during that time. When she came out she found Edwards at the door. She gave him the light and he went towards his bedroom. She neither saw the prosecutrix nor Edwards again that night.
Cross-examined by Mr Adolphus: The prosecutrix was not able to speak on her way upstairs. She heard the prosecutrix say to the prisoner, 'You took liberties with me, you villain.'
Mr George Williams, the attorney for the prisoner, stated that he knew Joseph Edwards: that person came to his office after Cant was committed, and made a communication to him. The communication was made after the prisoner had been admitted to bail.
Thomas Shipton, pot-boy at the Windsor Castle, stated that the prosecutrix appeared to be intoxicated on the day in question. He saw her before she went upstairs, and she then presented the appearance of a person who had taken liquor.
Mrs Sarah Goodchild, a washerwoman, stated that she was employed by Mr Cant. She went up to the bedroom of the prosecutrix about nine o'clock on the night in question, accompanied by the prisoner and his wife. The girl was then lying across the bed, and witness, assisted by Mr Cant, placed her straight upon the bed. They all left the room together. No light was left in the room.
Joseph Edwards was called and examined by Mr Phillips: He was a bootmaker, and formerly slept at the house of the prisoner. He now resided at No 2 Fenton's Buildings. He was in the habit of visiting the prisoner's family occasionally, and he slept there on the 3rd of October when the girl Bolland was there. She went upstairs, he believed, between nine and ten o'clock. She appeared then to be intoxicated. He saw her the next morning about half-past six o'clock, and went to her brother's house with her. They went down Chancery Lane, along Fleet Street and over Blackfriars Bridge. He told her that was the way to the Commercial Road, believing that she lived near the Commercial Road, Lambeth, but it appeared that it was Commercial Road East, she wished to go to. After the prisoner was committed, he called at the office of Mr Williams, and made a communication to that gentleman which was true. He made a similar communication to a friend of the name of Murphy. He went into prosecutor's room about eleven o'clock on the night of the 3rd of October. He had no light with him. She was in bed. Edwards proceeded to state that he had criminal intercourse with the girl, and he felt it his duty, when the prisoner was committed, to in form Mr Williams of what he had done.
Cross-examined by Mr Adolphus: Witness was out of employment at the time of this transaction. He knew Mr Cant, and the first time he slept at the Windsor Castle was on the 3rd of October. He had known Cant for four or five years. He had lodgings at Bartholomew Close on the 3rd of October. When he stayed at the Windsor Castle late, he was asked to sleep there. The girl did not appear at all unwilling to submit to the intercourse, but on the contrary, appeared quite willing. He had not gone to bed before. She was not covered with blankets. He heard all that had been stated that day, when the prisoner was examined before the justices, but he did not then mention a word of what he had now said. On the way home on Friday, the prosecutrix said that Mr Cant had called her a drunkard, and she would fix him for it. She then seemed happy enough.
Murphy corroborated this statement by declaring that the witness had told him of what he had done, after the time at which the communication had been made to Mr Williams.
A number of witnesses were then called, who gave the prisoner an excellent character, and Mr Adolphus proceeded to reply. He rejoiced that Mr Phillips had not attempted to cast any aspersion upon the character of the prosecutrix, and declared his belief that no attempt could be successfully made to show that she was unworthy of belief. The case depended entirely now upon the testimony of Edwards, and the simple question was, whether the jury would credit his statement in preference to that of the girl Bolland. No attempt was made to deny the advances which Cant had made to the girl on the morning of the 3rd of October, and he asked the jury first, whether having made those advances, it was improbable that he should have followed them up, and secondly, whether they could believe a person who came forward and told such an improbable tale as Edwards. The testimony of the prosecutrix was materially sustained in many particulars -- that of Edwards received no important confirmation. True, he had gone to two persons to relate his story before he told it here, but at that time the prisoner was at large on bail, and it was to be observed that he might have done so for the express purpose of propping up an improbable story. He had said nothing about it at the police office, although he had heard the prosecutrix examined there, and the whole relation bore so much of the impress of fiction, that the jury, he was sure, would attach no credit to his declaration.
The learned judge (Mr Baron Gurney) in summing up contrasted the statements of the prosecutrix and Edwards with great force, and having instructed the jury upon the law affecting the case, informing them that the offence of rape might have been committed upon the prosecutrix while she was in a state of insensibility, although no resistance had been made by her, left the whole case to them for decision.
After about two hours' consideration, a verdict of 'Guilty' was returned. The prisoner appeared somewhat astonished at this conclusion of the case, and loudly declared his innocence. Judgement of death was, however, recorded against him, and he was removed from the bar.
The very peculiar circumstances of this case attracted a large share of public attention; and a feeling was commonly entertained that the verdict was founded upon an erroneous view of the facts of the case. The persons who adopted this impression lost no time in conveying their opinion to the Secretary of State for the Home Department, but in spite of their most strenuous exertions in favour of Mr Cant, the Government declined to give a decision in opposition to that which had been arrived at by the jury, although it was resolved that the sentence of death should be changed for a punishment of transportation for life.
In obedience to this determination Mr Cant was subsequently sent out of the country.