This person, at the date of his trial, was a youth who had just attained the age of fifteen years only. He appeared to have been well brought up, and to have received a good education; but no effort could induce him to divulge the residence of his parents, or of any person with whom he was connected, or indeed to give any account of himself. He was a stout, well-made lad, and appeared to possess a degree of strength beyond his years. His offence undoubtedly is one of a most extraordinary description.
He was indicted at the Launceston assizes on Tuesday, the 1st of April 1834, for having assaulted Grace Brenn, with intent to commit a rape.
The prosecutrix appeared in court to give evidence. She was apparently in a state of extreme suffering. She stated herself to be a widow with two children, and to be thirty-one years of age. Her appearance denoted her to be of a delicate constitution, and gained for her much sympathy. Her evidence was to the following effect: --
She occupied a small cottage at a place called Botusfleming, near Launceston, which consisted of only three rooms -- a front and back kitchen, and an upper apartment, to which access was had by a staircase leading from the latter. On the evening of Tuesday, the 11th of March, she was on the point of retiring to rest, at half-past nine o'clock, when she heard a knock at the door. She demanded who was there, and some one from without answered, "A boy -- a lad," and said that he had lost his way. She was induced, by his representations of his distress, to open the door, and then, on her seeing him, she recognised him as having called at her house three weeks before to enquire his way to Corgreen. On his being admitted he at once assumed an authoritative air, locked the door and pocketed the key, and declared his intention to stop there that night. He called for tea and bread and butter, which were supplied by the witness, who was in a dreadful state of alarm, and then demanded that a bed should be brought for his use into the sitting-room. This, after some remonstrance, she consented to do, and then she retired to her own room, where, retaining all her clothes but her gown upon her person, she lay down by the side of her little boy. Unable to sleep, after a while she was alarmed to hear the prisoner suddenly ascend the stairs, and immediately afterwards he rushed into her room, to the side of the bed where her little girl lay. He took up the girl and flung her to the bottom of the bed, and in a moment threw himself across the bed, and laid hold of witness by the head. She exclaimed, "Good God, what have I done?" and got his hands off her head, and continued screeching. [[Here followed evidence of the brutality of the prisoner, developing a series of the most shocking expressions and brutish attempts on the witness. Thrice he thrust a handkerchief in her mouth, to prevent her cries; repeatedly knocked her down across the bed and on the floor; the witness stating explicitly acts, the evidence of which was conclusive of the attempt, and all but accomplishment of his diabolical purpose. The prisoner had nothing on but his shirt at the time of the attack]. The witness at length succeeded in gaining the staircase, down which she rushed, when the prisoner, leaning over the rail of the stair-head, laid hold of her hair, by which he attempted to pull her up stairs again. Her hair gave way, and she fell through the staircase-door, at the bottom of the stairs. She got up and tried the front door, but the key was taken away. The prisoner had by this time also come down stairs, and he repeated the violence of which he had before been guilty. He swore that he had razors and pistols with him and would murder her, and he attacked her with the most brutal ferocity with a fire-shovel, with which he wounded her many times on the head and face "All his aim now was," said the witness, "to murder me. He said he passed by the door a few nights ago, with three more of the gang. I said 'Spare me my life for the sake of my dear little fatherless children.' He said, 'Will you promise me never to split, or to divulge, or to make it known?' I said, 'No, sir, I never will.' He said, 'I must put you upon your oath; if you divulge, and I am taken up and punished, the others will soon do for you; are you agreeable?' I said, 'Yes; anything to save my life.' He said he should be put to death himself by his gang. He said he never went through but one such case before, and then his life was a narrow escape to him, or something to that effect. I fell upon my knees, and he said the words over that I was to say. I cannot recollect them exactly, but the last were 'Holy Ghost.' I then thought he was going to spare my life. There was blood upon the floor. He said to me, 'You must wash yourself.' I said 'Yes, sir.' He said, 'You must, for you are all over blood.' I said, 'I will get some water,' and I took a basin, but he said he would get the water. He went out and returned immediately; I said I would wash up the blood from the floor, as when Mr. Fitzgerald's groom came to the stable close by he might notice it. Prisoner had thrown away the water with which I had washed; I took the basin out to the pump, and lifted the handle once or twice, and then ran away to William Summerfield's; the prisoner was brought there by William Summerfield and Mr. Fitzgerald's servant; they asked me if that was the person; I exclaimed, he was the rogue. The prisoner then fell on his knees; he said, 'My dear ma'am, if you'll forgive me, I'll never do the like again.' Before I left my house, he ordered me up stairs whilst he dressed himself; he ordered me down, and I came; he took the candle and said, 'I fear I have injured you too much to spare your life!'" Here the witness described her desperate condition, the dreadful effects of the assault. One tooth had been knocked down her throat, another broken off in the jaw, which was much swollen, her head had been cut with the shovel, her limbs much bruised by the fall over the stairs. Other hurts were also described of a nature not to be put in print.
The prosecutrix was cross-examined by counsel for the prisoner, but no part of her sad recital was invalidated.
Counsel addressed the jury on behalf of the prisoner, endeavouring to show that the youth for a time must have been possessed of a demon, or that the whole account of the prosecutrix was exaggerated, as it appeared more like a tale of fancy than an exposition of facts.
His lordship charged the jury, who, without much hesitation, returned a verdict of "Guilty," with a recommendation to mercy.
The learned judge, in delivering the sentence of two years' imprisonment and hard labour, explained that the prisoner owed his life to the courageous conduct of the prosecutrix. Had she not resisted to the life, and had he accomplished his guilty and brutal purpose, nothing could have saved him from an ignominious death.